Review by: David Vernier
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 9
I’m reluctant to play into something that may be a stereotype, but–brass players just always seem to be having so much fun! Somewhere very close behind their performing is a clever smile, a knowing of something light-hearted yet perhaps a little raunchy, or just mischievous, or maybe just a cool inside joke. They’re on to something–or into something…whatever, they are enjoying themselves and their place as the fun/assertive/impossible-to-ignore bad boy and girl characters of the instrumental world. Usually brass ensembles are the standard quintets–two trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba. But what of a septet consisting of two B-flat trumpets, E-flat trumpet, two trombones, bass trombone, and tuba? Who cares when the playing–and the repertoire and arrangements–are as good as we have here, from the group called Septura.
Obviously this is a Christmas album, but Septura has chosen to present its program not just as arrangements of familiar carols and medleys of popular sacred and secular pieces–you know, the way we usually hear these things. Instead the group has taken Christmas-related classical works, mostly from the choral repertoire, and set them–deftly and affectingly–for their particular instrumental cohort. These are works from composers such as Schütz, Bach, Palestrina, and Parsons–not on the list of common Christmas caroling programs. We also get beautifully conceived settings of standard choral masterpieces like Harold Darke’s In the bleak midwinter; Leontovych’s Carol of the Bells; and Peter Cornelius’ The Three Kings. Yes, some standard hymns are represented: Praetorius’ Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (also in a setting by Brahms) and Gruber’s Stille Nacht. And there is even a well-realized 11-minute collection of Messiah selections.
Another generalization: performances by brass groups on this level are invariably good, and make uniquely satisfying listening. There’s just something about the sound of these very compatible instruments blending so richly, with such a smooth, easy, confident, cooly show-offy manner (“we’ve got this!”)–and when the performances are articulated with such precision and expressive uniformity–they always are–your ear just celebrates. And yours will when you hear this–one of those holiday recordings you can just put on and enjoy either as a mood-enhancing background or a more forward contributor to the seasonal festivities.
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Recording Details:Album Title: Christmas With Septura
Works by Schütz, Bach, Darke, Praetorius, Leontovych, Warlock, Palestrina, Cornelius, Handel, Gruber, others, arranged for brass septet