Festmusik – A Legacy
Music for brass ensemble by Brahms, R Franz, A Rubinstein, R Schumann and R Strauss
Septura; Onyx Brass/John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5284 (CD/SACD) 67:25 mins
This programme of pieces for brass ensemble in the German Romantic tradition opens with Richard Strauss’s grandiose Festmusik der Stadt Wien (1943), scored for ten trumpets, seven trombones, two tubas and timpani, and closes with arrangements for similar forces of his massive Zwei Gesänge for 16-part chorus (1897), all under the spacious sway of John Wilson. In between come arrangements for the five virtuosic core members of Onyx Brass of partsongs by Brahms and Mendelssohn, piano pieces by Schumann, Anton Rubinstein and a song by Robert Franz – the rationale for this curious sequence being a packet of autograph letters by these composers inherited by the group’s tuba player David Gordon-Shute.
The quintet arrangements are of varying effectiveness; a little bland in the Brahms and Mendelssohn songs, more ingenious in rendering the piano textures of Schumann’s inventive Impromptus on a theme of Clara Wieck, and of the Rubinstein Nocturne, thanks to the Onyx’s deftness of articulation. Again, the Festal Music for the City of Vienna may not be top-drawer Strauss, but its sequence of fanfares and hymnodies are more cogent and less inflated than many of his ceremonial pieces, and performed here with crackling attack. And the playing in the arrangements of the Two Songs is extraordinary. How do human lungs sustain the vast phrases and endless pedal-points of Der Abend (Evening) – a golden, ten-minute drift of Straussian serenity? And, in Chandos’s typically full recorded acoustic, the sheer glory of sonority in the climaxes of the more eventful Hymne is quite overwhelming.