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American Brass!
See end of review for track-listing
London Symphony Brass/Eric Crees
rec. January 1991, Barbican Hall, London, UK
Originally released on Collins Classics 12882
ALTO ALC 1209 [63:37]


 
Its good to see these old Collins recordings making a comeback. Their invaluable Dame Gillian Weir set of Messiaen organ works and those discs of Peter Maxwell Davies conducting his own works now available on Priory and Naxos respectively are prime examples of what this label achieved in its short but very productive life. The London Symphony Brass made a number of recordings for Collins, of which this tasty selection of 20th-century American classics is likely to have the widest appeal.
 
Seasoned CD collectors may baulk when they hear that these performances were recorded in the rather dry and unforgiving acoustic of Londons Barbican Hall. However, the disc seems largely unaffected by this perennially problematic venue. True, the sound isnt quite up to the best modern standards, but then the top-notch playing more than compensates for any sonic shortcomings. Indeed, the Fanfare for the Common Man is as thrilling as ever, the heraldic brass nicely distanced from the thudding bass drum and shimmering tam-tam centre-stage.
 
Most impressive, though, is the ensembles rock-solid intonation and impeccable blend. They are from the LSO after all. We can add to this the hyper-alert and idiomatic direction of Eric Crees. The LSOs co-principal trombone for twenty years and now principal trombone at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Crees leads a high-octane performance of Bernsteins West Side Story suite. Theres a delicious sense of anticipation in the nervy rhythms of Somethings Coming and an intoxicating jungle beat in the Mambo. If anything, the Barbicans clean acoustic brings out the percussive edges, but the recording never succumbs to fatigue-inducing brightness.
 
After a nimble Scherzo comes the riotous and in Lennys DG recording, very funny Amrica. The rhythmic flexibility of this most versatile band is a joy to hear, and it doesnt take much to imagine that girlish argument and Anitas cautionary tale of the boo-leets flying. After that comes the finger-clickin Cool, which is as svelte and slinky as one could wish. Theres some terrific work on the drums, too. The suite ends with a haunting, finely calibrated rendition of the signature piece, Somewhere. It all sounds so wonderfully symphonic as well, the climaxes bold yet tastefully done.
 
The one very minor disappointment on this disc is El Saln Mxico which, for all its felicities, cant quite match the ease and sleaze of Bernsteins orchestral account on CBS/Sony. Its all too easy to imprint on a recording, but Ive never heard anyone do this piece better than Bernstein himself; even Coplands LSO version also on CBS/ Sony doesnt come close.
 
No such qualms about Cowells stirring Fanfare for the Latin American Allies, which has all the ceremonial nobility and splendour the piece demands.
 
This CD is sensibly programmed, with inwardness likely to follow ebullience. Just sample the gravely beautiful Barber Mutations, which has a hushed, superbly etched quality. If proof were needed of the ensembles professionalism and skill this is it. What extraordinary playing, and how well recorded to boot. As for the irreverent Ives, these variations can hardly fail to raise ones spirits. From the first straight version of that tune to its plashy, discordant reprise and the jaunty finale these fine players remind one of just how devilishly clever this piece is.
 
The disc draws to a close with another Copland fanfare, this one written in 1969 to commemorate the centennial of New Yorks Metropolitan Museum of Art. A gnarly affair, its no less effective or affecting for that. The concert ends on a high note, with a jazzy, smoke-hazed version of Bernsteins Prelude, Fugue and Riffs. The band play as if to the manner born. They seem to strike sparks off each other at times. One senses that the players are letting their hair down at last. It makes a fitting sign-off to a most enjoyable CD.
 
A welcome return for this Collins collection; brass fans need not dally.
 
Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei
 

 
Track-listing
 
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) [3:07]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Suite from West Side Story (1957) (arr. Eric Crees)
Prologue [4:17]
Somethings coming [2:55]
Mambo [2:24]
Maria Cha cha [1:18]
Scherzo [1:53]
Amrica [2:40]
Cool Fugue [3:55]
Somewhere [4:23]
Aaron COPLAND
El Saln Mxico (1936) (arr. Eric Crees) [11:07]
Henry COWELL (1897-1965)
Fanfare for the Latin American Allies (1942) (arr. Eric Crees) [1:49]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Mutations from Bachs Christe du Lamm Gottes (1968) [4:50]
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Variations on America (?1891) (arr. Eric Crees) [7:17]
Aaron COPLAND
Ceremonial Fanfare (1969) [3:52]
Leonard BERNSTEIN
Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (1949/1955) (arr. Eric Crees) [7:44]