New York Brass Quintet, Volume 2: “Romantic Age Brass” = LUDWIG MAURER: Five Pieces; VICTOR EWALD: Brass Quintet No. 2, Op. 6; Brass Quintet No. 3, OP. 7; WILHLEM RAMSOE: Quartet No. 4, Op. 37; OSCAR BÖHME: Brass Sextet, Op. 30 – New Brass Quintet – Mentor Music Men-108 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi], 75:58 ****:
The New York Brass Quintet, formed in 1954, was the reincarnated New York Brass Ensemble, a group whose brief life included at least one milestone: the first-ever recording of brass music by Giovanni Gabrielli. In its new guise as the New York Brass Quintet, the group was primarily dedicated to performing children’s concerts under the auspices of Young Audiences, Inc., playing at public schools on the East Coast during the fifties. Afterward, the group toured nationally and made two stereo recordings, from which the current offering is taken. It features music by a seemingly disparate group of Romantic composers—two Germans (Maurer and Böhme), one Dane (Ramsoe), and one Russian (Ewald)—all of whom were either born in St. Petersburg (Ewald) or emigrated there, helping to mold the St. Petersburg school of music for brass.
Of the four composers, Victor Ewald (1860–1935) is the best known. His four brass quintets are the most prominent examples of Romantic chamber music for brass. They’re no strangers to the concert hall or recording studio and are the most attractive music on the disc. Interestingly, despite the prominence of these works, Ewald was an amateur musician; he was a civil engineer by calling. The quartets sound a bit like Rimsky-Korsakov in his more Classical vein, the Rimsky of the chamber music, symphonies, and concertos for winds and band. In the Andante of the Quintet No. 3, Ewald seems to take his cue from Tchaikovsky instead; this is gushier, more sentimental than Ewald generally is. But the two quintets offer attractive music throughout, with well-constructed sonata-form first movements, snappy finales (marked Allegro vivace and Vivo respectively), and in the Second Quintet, a theme-and-variations slow movement that seems to be based on a Russian folk melody, either original or skillfully imitated.
Of the other composers represented here, Oscar Böhme (1870–1938) makes the best impression, his Sextet being especially bright because of unusual, top-heavy scoring: three trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba. The jaunty little scherzo, with its near-jazzy syncopations, is the most immediately appealing, but the slow movement is very effective as well, seeming to tap into a vein of Russian melancholy. The Allegro con spirito finale seems to be one of those hunt-inspired pieces that brass ensembles lend themselves to so readily. Very attractive.
The Five Pieces of Ludwig Maurer (1789–1878) are actually an arrangement for modern brass quintet of a selection from Maurer’s Twelve Little Pieces scored for two cornets, two horns, and trombone. The arranger is Robert Nagel, founder of the New York Brass Ensemble/Quintet and its golden-toned principal trumpet. Five Pieces makes for a nice little suite, lighter fare than the other works on the program. That certainly includes Quartet No. 4 of Wilhelm Ramsoe; it’s most memorable movement is a very stern Marcia funebre, although the Scherzo and Allegro molto that follow have a fresh-air quality about them that makes you think of band concerts in the park.
Except for the Maurer work, these are live recordings taken from concerts at the Manhattan School of Music. While the performances in concert have the usual fluffs that crop up in that context—surprisingly few, given the difficulty of some of this music—there’s an extra vigor and spontaneity here that the performance of the Maurer doesn’t match. Curiously, the studio recording for the Maurer sounds less open, less stereophonic than the live recordings. But all the recordings, remastered from reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes, are more than acceptable, which speaks well for engineer Bruce Whisler, who did the mastering. All in all, this is a very enjoyable program, well and energetically played by a group that deserves to be heard from again.
A “…first choice for a gift to any lover of classical music”…