The secret of great conducting, said the French master Pierre Monteux with a smile, is never to look encouragingly at the brass section.
Ever shushed by conductors intent on balancing their precious string and woodwind sonorities, brass players often sit and dream of circumstances when they can really cut loose.
Oh, there are occasional Janacek "Sinfoniettas" and Mahler "Firsts" where they can let it fly, but in most of the repertoire, the conductor poops the party just as things start to get interesting.
Howenjoyable it must be for the Annapolis Brass to bring two of its fellow quintets to town for a concert in which 15 brass players can raise the roof of the Pascal Center to their hearts' content -- without so much as a raised eyebrow from the podium.
The Annapolitans were joined Sunday evening by the Philadelphia Brass and the Tower Brass Quintet, which is based in Toledo, Ohio. The program consisted of music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, three contemporary pieces, a brass arrangement of Elgar's "Nimrod" from the "Enigma Variations," and Richard Strauss' gorgeous "Feierlicher Einzug."
Performing these works in every conceivable logistical permutation, the three quintets produced a number of musical highlights.
Each ensemble contributed its own Elizabethan dance, and when the 15 players united forAnthony Holborne's "Fairy Round," they created that exhilarating wash of sound that only brass can provide.
There were beautiful antiphonal works by Hassler and Schutz and a pair of Renaissance pieces scored for low brass alone.
The canzoni of Giovanni Gabrielli are always a treat, and as they resounded through the Pascal Center, one could imagine how they might have thrilled the listeners at St. Mark's in Venice a few centuries back.
These are extremely tricky works to bring off, but once the quintets got past a rocky beginning in the first canzon, the Venetian pomp and pageantry came through admirably.
The visiting ensembles were accorded the opportunity to perform alone.
The Philadelphians contributed a dazzling transcription of J.S. Bach's fugue based on the letters of his name, and the Tower Quintet gave the local premiere of "Urbanisms," a piece by David Saygers,the group's tuba player.
"Urbanisms," despite a second movement that overstays its welcome, is an agreeable work of energy and invention. Allusions to jazz and other urban musical styles give the piece an accessibility that is quite appealing.
The players did have a bit of trouble with the transcription of Elgar's "Nimrod." For such a sustained, glowing melody to work on brass instruments, the playing would have to be more accurate than it was Sunday evening.
There wasmore than a hint of bumpiness in "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" as well. I've heard this gorgeous chorale arranged for one, two, and now three brass quintets, and I don't think it works in any of these incarnations, to be honest. They just don't flow like the original version.
But what a treat to hear such a sensational account of Richard Strauss' "Feierlicher Einzug." This composer had brass in his blood, and his lush, post-Romantic instrumental interlude proved a terrific way to end the program.
"What a band, huh?" marveled ABQ trumpeter David Cran to the large audience early in the concert.
After hearing Strauss played by these 15 talented musicians, it was impossible not to agree.