- Music for Brass, for brass ensemble & percussion
The National Brass Ensemble is not a standing assembly of players but a group assembled for this particular project. Given the difficulty of getting them all together -- the players are all drawn from the brass sections of major American symphony orchestras -- it seems unlikely that you'll ever hear from the National Brass Ensemble again. That's a shame, for this is a top-notch release among the available recordings of Giovanni Gabrieli's brass ensemble music on modern instruments. Its strengths are threefold. First is just the effortless command of the technical difficulties, which are formidable; the Gabrieli "Symphoniae Sacrae" of 1597 are among those musical works that exist at the boundaries of playability. Some of that aspect is lost on modern instruments, but certainly not all. Second, the sound on this release by the Oberlin Conservatory of Music is superb, and sound is a key factor with this music. The album was recorded at the Skywalker studio; how a Midwestern conservatory got the money together for that high-powered place is unclear, but the engineers give the lie to the contention that you can really record Gabrieli well only in one of the Italian church spaces he himself had in mind. The spatial separation of the instruments is vivid, and the sound in general is as clear as you can find. And third, the various instrumental subgroupings of which the ensemble is capable are ably exploited by none other than the septuagenarian John Williams, who combines cinematic ideas with structures designed to showcase the brass players. The bottom line: a highly enjoyable brass release, especially essential for owners of high-end audio equipment.