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Canadian Brass’s newest release delivers on both technical and artistic fronts

By Steven Peacock

By Canadian Brass, with guest conductor Robert Moody
(Opening Day Recordings) 

Legends, Canadian Brass’s newest release, more than restores and reaffirms the  listener’s belief in the expressive and truth-telling possibilities of music-making. It is a celebration of the rich and impressive history of Canadian Brass that also celebrates artistic evocations of the heroic and legend-worthy by a wide range of composers — from Monteverdi and Mozart to Barber and The Beatles.

Legends brings into play a number of ensemble formats. Four of the tracks, including an arrangement of Samuel Barber’s hauntingly resolute Adagio and the newly commissioned Golyardes’ Grounde by Malcolm Forsyth, are scored for brass quintet. Here, the many musical virtues we associate with the name Canadian Brass are easily recognized: rhythmic vitality, impeccable sense of ensemble, always-judicious phrasing and articulation, unerring command of style.

These virtues (and many others) are equally alive in the three tracks — works by early 17th-century composers Gabrieli, Monteverdi and Gibbons — that feature double quintet, a performance format (as the liner notes remind us) pretty much invented by Canadian Brass during its collaboration with the Berlin Philharmonic Brass in the early 1980s. The remaining pieces on Legends involve slightly larger numbers of brass and sometimes percussion players, notably Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (11 brass players and three percussionists).

What I like about the larger group performances is that they achieve a truly orchestral range of texture, tone colour, dimensionality and scale. This is especially true in the arrangements of Mozart’s Queen of the Night and of Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.

Those seeking displays of technical virtuosity won’t be disappointed. Ryan Anthony’s trumpet solo on Penny Lane, for example, manages a dauntingly difficult quote from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, not to mention an intergalactic leap up to high C at the very end of the track. And Canadian Brass member Joe Burgstaller’s arrangement of La Virgen de la Macarena, apart from being great fun for closet toreadors everywhere, places very high technical demands on all of the players equally.

Legends delivers mightily on many technical, interpretive and emotional fronts, and does so across an impressive variety of musical fabrics. It’s a treasure not to be missed.

Steven Peacock is music director at Wilmot United in Fredericton.

Steven Peacock is music director at Wilmot United in Fredericton.
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