Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble

Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani [Hybrid SACD]

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One reviewer of this sonic extravaganza called St. Mark's in Venice, the original performance site of several of the Giovanni Gabrieli canzonas included here, the world's first surround-sound experience. Surround sound is the idea here; the booklet regales us with diagrams showing the placement of the instruments in New York's St. Ignatius Loyola Church, possessor of an enormous pipe organ whose low tones are another special audiophile feature on display. Suffice it to say that this is one fabulous piece of sound engineering. The bass will shake your internal organs. The effect of space is uncanny, even without an SACD player; to get the full effect, you should really listen to it multiple times, sitting in different parts of the room. Musically it's a mixed bag. The Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble delivers nice, lush performances of Gabrieli, and it's a pleasure to hear organist Anthony Newman, even in an accompanimental role; several Bach cantata arrangements give him plenty to do, as does the concluding "Great Gate of Kiev" movement from Pictures at an Exhibition. In that thrilling finale you almost feel you're right up against the organ pipes; the degree of texture captured is really startling. Not all the arrangements are uniformly successful. Richard Strauss' little-known Feierlicher Einzug der Ritter des Johanniten-Ordens (Festive Processional for the Knights of the St. John's Order) is shrunk from its original size but sounds as though it was written for the organ-brass-tympani ensemble heard here. But the string parts of Handel's Water Music sound forced into this mold; Handel's texture contrasts don't come through. Really it doesn't matter much, for this recording is about beauty of sound, pure and simple. And that it delivers.

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