HENRY BRANT: Music for Massed Flutes = Ghosts and Gargoyles; Mass in Gregorian Chant for Multiple Flutes; Angels and Devils (1931) – The New York Flute Club/ Robert Aitken, cond. – New World Records

by | Dec 20, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HENRY BRANT: Music for Massed Flutes = Ghosts and Gargoyles; Mass in Gregorian Chant for Multiple Flutes; Angels and Devils (1931) – The New York Flute Club/ Robert Aitken, cond. – New World Records 80636-2, 56:42 ****:

93-year-old American composer Henry Brant has been called a maverick and experimentalist for his entire career, and since the 50s has been the world’s leading composer of acoustic spatial music, in which the placement of the players in the performance space is as important an element as the pitch, rhythm or timbre. Another interest of Brant has been writing for massed ensembles of the same or similar instruments; he has created works for 80 trombones, 50 trumpets, 50 guitars, and even two groups of fire sirens.

Multiple flute-family instruments in a spatial context are the focus of the first two works on this CD.  Ghosts and Gargoyles is for a soloist playing flute, bass flute and piccolo, an octet of various flutes, and a jazz drummer.  The octet members are spaced around the hall in pairs while the solo flutist and a conductor are in the center of the performing space. Various extended techniques on the flutes are employed, and the flute octet occasionally quotes from early masses by Allegri and Palestrina.  The Gregorian Chant Mass of 1984 is scored for as many flutists as possible, and about 20% of them doubling on piccolo.  All their material comes from the original Gregorian chant. The flutists begin all playing in unison, but at a signal from the conductor some of them are encouraged to move slightly ahead or behind their neighbors.  The fractured unison artificially simulates the long delay time in some of the huge cathedrals.

The third work is not a new recording but the original mono performance of Angels and Devils conducted by Henry Brant for CRI Records in 1956. It’s a fascinating exploration of the special sonorities possible from multiple similar instruments. Multiple tonguing nd various vibratos are used plus interesting trills and imitations of bird sounds. There is a definite jazz feel about sections of the work. This is probably the composer’s best-known work and rightly so.

However excellent this CD might be as an introduction to Brant and his music, I have to strongly fault it on a technical issue.  Angels and Devils is one of the most famous works of spatial music, along with the Berlioz Requiem and Gabrielli Canzonas.  Yet the reissue is only mono! And the other two works are only stereo. It’s insulting to release it this way. Surround sound is its whole point! This music cries out to be on a surround sound SACD!  In mono it’s like a color photocopy of the Mona Lisa. 

– John Sunier

Related Reviews