COMPOSERS: Alabiev,Böhme & Glinka,Mussorgsky
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Pictures at an Exhibition
PERFORMER: Fine Arts Brass Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5645
People climb Everest ‘because it’s there’. No one argues about this, but it really only applies to mountaineering. Transcribing Pictures at an Exhibition for brass quintet ‘because it’s there’ is certainly a rare and brave achievement but, apart from accomplishing the near impossible, what light does it shed on either Mussorgsky or the brass quintet medium? In spite of Stephen Roberts’s arranging skills and the Fine Arts’s pyrotechnic ability (particularly the astonishingly secure high trumpet-playing), the fundamental incongruity between the work and a small chamber ensemble is always evident.
It is a pity that this recording is burdened with such an oddity, for the real interest lies elsewhere in the two original works from the 19th century. From what was once considered a fallow period for brass music, compact, fluently crafted and beautifully voiced pieces like these are now regularly being unearthed. The new valve mechanisms that became available mid-century obviously inspired some composers, but not nearly enough. The two works by Oskar Böhme and Alexander Alabiev are pleasantly anodyne yet scholarly in construction, but the Fine Arts players sound totally convinced by them and play with such swagger and warm lyricism that scepticism is given the afternoon off. Christopher Mowat