Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Album Review: Canadian Brass Takes Flight

The Canadian Brass has been on the scene for over forty years and the formula for their success hasn’t changed much. You can always count on them to program a couple of barn-burning showpieces, a few Baroque tunes, a smattering of chestnuts and a ragtime or jazz rave-up. Canadian Brass Takes Flight proves that nearly a half-century of a good thing can continue to be a good thing.

Canadian Brass Takes Flight is what Daniel Guss calls in his effusive liner notes, “a kind of state of the union address by the group.” A cynic might say that means the overlying concept behind the dozen and a half selections is to serve as a showcase for what this talented quintet can do. If you think of Canadian Brass Takes Flight as a brilliantly played and smartly packaged greatest hits album you will not be disappointed.

The Baroque selections come off very well. Readings of Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor and Fantasia and Fugue in D minor showcase the contrapuntal genius of the composer and the quintet’s clear-toned precision in revealing each of those lines. Best of all are their performances of Samuel Scheidt’s Galliard Battaglia and Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzona Prima a 5, both of which have marvelous energy and appealing bite. There are some interesting novelties too. I was really taken with the pure tonal beauty of the Canadian Brass’s playing of the Brahms Chorale Prelude No. 1, and trumpeter Brandon Ridenour’s gorgeous Lament, what I think is the best piece on the album.

There are some missteps. After hearing the album’s first track, the “Flight of the Bumblebee,” I’m determined to call a worldwide moratorium on all arrangements of the piece. On the other hand, I enjoyed the closing New Orleans set, especially the good-hearted Saints’ Hallelujah fusing the famous “When the Saints Go Marching In” onto the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

This is self-recommending for fans of the Canadian Brass, but if you are not a fan you will still find plenty to enjoy.

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