By Dennis D. Rooney
The Philadelphia Orchestra Brass Quintet is composed of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s brass section, viz. David Bilger and Anthony Prisk, trumpets; Nitzan Haroz, trombone; Jeffrey Lang, horn; and Carol Jantsch, tuba.
Their appearance Monday was sponsored by the Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach and marked that organization’s first concert in Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Palm Beach, located near Flagler Drive. The 1924 Spanish Colonial/Mission Revival church has a spacious interior well suited to brass instruments, with acoustics that allowed the sound to expand attractively but without excessive reverberation.
The ensemble was seated in the chancel and, in lieu of a printed program, the members variously introduced the works they played. Jantsch introduced the three Renaissance melodies that began the program. An arrangement by John Iveson of La Mourisque by Tielman Susato (ca. 1510-ca. 1570, an important Flemish composer and printer of music who flourished in Antwerp) was followed by songs by two English composers: “Come, Holy Ghost” by Christopher Tyrone and “I Love and Have My Love Regarded” by Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623), both as arranged by Verne Reynolds.
Prisk introduced a work by Eric Ewazen, Colchester Fantasy, ostensibly inspired by four of that ancient Essex city’s pubs: The Rose & Crown; The Marquis of Granby; The Dragoon; and The Red Lion. Ewazen (b. 1956) is not well known to concert audiences but is a prolific composer of chamber music and works for brass ensemble, earning plaudits in the latter genre for expert handling of brass timbres and textures. This work was performed in its 2006 revision, where the tuba plays a part originally for bass trombone.
The high spirits of Ewazen were followed by Bilger’s introduction to the Contrapunctus IX (arranged by John Glasel) from J.S. Bach’s Art of the Fugue, the summit of his contrapuntal thinking. It is a double fugue, with two subjects occurring dependently, and in invertible counterpoint at the 12th. Those technical details shape its beauty as sheer music, which, however, needs no contrapuntal knowledge to appreciate.
Jantsch introduced the Quintet No. 3 (in D-flat, Op. 7) by the Russian composer Victor Ewald, who was born in 1860 and died in 1935, and spent most of his life as a civil engineer. However, he had extensive musical training and enjoyed a musical avocation as a composer, performer, and Russian folksong collector. His four brass quintets, composed between 1888 and 1912, were long believed to be the first such works written.
They remained essentially unheard until the mid-1970s, and became immensely popular with brass quintets, both for their technical challenges and their lush Russian romantic style on a par with Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. In the third, from 1912, a scherzo-like Intermezzo, an ardent Andante and a jolly Vivo follow an opening Allegro moderato.
Short selections completed the program. Haroz introduced two Irish melodies, arranged by Richard Price, the second of which was “The Wexford Carol,” a relatively unfamiliar nod to Christmastide. The first, from County Derry, was collected by Percy Grainger but achieved its real fame as the song, “Danny Boy.” Bilger then introduced his own arrangement of Scott Joplin’s Solace (heard in the Newman/Redford film, The Sting), which featured an extensive trombone solo for Haroz. Jeffrey Lang introduced three selections from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (“Maria,” “Tonight” and “America”) arranged by Jack Gale that concluded the performance.
The Quintet brought off all the varied fare with complete success. Everything was so well rehearsed that an occasional fluffed attack was thoroughly unimportant. Virtuosity was always on display, especially in Ewazen, Bach and Ewald, but also memorably animating Joplin and Bernstein, too. It was also a showcase for the players’ skill in effectively communicating informally with an appreciative audience.