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The Chicago Trombone Consort is made up of principals, nine on this disc, based in and around Chicago. The exiguous liner notes inform us that the consort was founded in 2008, this being its debut recording. It certainly lives up to its intention of offering a varied program. Within the first 10 minutes or so one lurches from a pleasant opening fanfare (the Czech Nelhybel) that starts with a delightful low raspberry, via an arrangement of ceremonial Gabrieli, then a rather suave contemporary piece by the English composer Jeremy Dibb, followed by the Pergolesi trio sonata, whose first and third movements are instantly recognizable from Stravinskys Pulcinella.
And then, with far too short a pause, comes the disconcerting sound of the opening of Strausss Alpine Symphony. This is a fascinating relaying of the big work for trombone quartet, or rather a judiciously selected 11 minutes of it, presenting mainly the slow sonorous passages. Wisely, the arranger, Ben Mansted, has eschewed most of the vigorous tramping up the mountain, which would have surely been implausible, to say the least, on four trombones, resulting in a rather skewed impression of the original. Unfortunately, the sunrise counts for little, the players having not held back before it, and maybe a conductor might have shaped the performance of this work more persuasively.
The trombone solo at the beginning of Entering the Forest is the only miscalculation in the recital, having something of the associations of lachrymose music hall (vaudeville?) soloists. Otherwise the arrangement is curiously successful on its own terms. However, by this time in the CD all the euphony and mellow, rounded edges are beginning to pall. The contrast with the air and energy on Kempes recording of the Strauss was a shock when I turned to it for comparison. The recording of the Chicago players is fine and isnt in itself claustrophobic, but the sound world of the trombones is just too restricted for my taste. One longs for the bite of trumpets and rasp of horns. There arent any sustained passages of fast music, and the dynamic range offered by the players isnt that wide (I am sure the recording is technically faithful). With intervals between pieces that are far too short, giving a certain relentlessness to the presentation, this isnt a CD to play all the way through at one sitting.
Rob Deemers piece, Shock and Awe, is a commission from the Chicago Trombone Quartet, a subset of the present band. In the absence of any information in the CD booklet, I havent been able to find anything on the Web about this work, so can only report that it is a, presumably deliberately, facetious and ironic work in three short movements, of which the middle one, Calls/Responses, is more than half the whole work and juxtaposes widely disparate music. The first movement more than nods at the lighter music of Shostakovich in its jauntiness. Whether the jolliness of the final movement, Brave New World, is intended to be straight or ironic, Im not sure.
Another short snatch of Baroquethis time Palestrinabefore Crespos Bruckner Etude. One immediately thinks of Bruckners Aequali and the E-Minor Mass, and it is as if Bruckners idiom has been thickened by 20th-century Romanticism. Its sound world harks back to track 9, the music of Calls/Responses. Bozzas Andantino is another stylistic hybrid. Bozza, who was French (d.1991), apparently wrote plenty of brass music, and this piece, all of 2:18, starts with a theme dangerously close to Ravels Pavane pour une infante defunte (on trombone, of course) before becoming all Baroquy. And onward
Mark Fishers arrangement of Rhinebergers Abendlied is more glorious sonority before the CD finishes with the Bach Passacaglia.
All in all, this CD is too much of a good thing in one sitting, like a meal consisting of cream cakes. However, taken in smaller doses, with imaginative selections of tracks, the performances never fail to entertain and impress, and their quality is abundantly clear. Jeremy Marchant
Here's the link to the November newsletter, as requested.