Music for Brass Septet, Vol. 1: Brahms, Bruckner, Mendelssohn, Schumann

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At one time, music for brass ensemble ruled the classical charts in the form of releases by the Canadian Brass. The medium seemed to decline in popularity, but the success of the British ensemble Septura suggests a new upswing is in the works. For those wondering who wrote music for brass septet, the answer is nobody; the group freely admits to a "counter-factual history of brass chamber music" here. But except on releases of Venetian Renaissance music, where a modern brass quintet involved its own of the compromises anyhow, most of the music has always been arranged. Much of the music here is arranged by trumpeter Simon Cox, and he has chosen music intelligently for the purpose of showcasing the rather unusual sound of the brass septet. Two of the groups of pieces here are originally for organ, and the septet nicely covers the dense organ lines of the Organ Sonata in C minor, Op. 65/2, of Mendelssohn and the still more intricate counterpoint of the five choral preludes from Brahms' swan song, the 11 Chorale Preludes for organ, Op. 122. Schumann's Four Songs for double chorus, Op. 141, do not fare quite as well: not only is a line lost, but the spatial effects in the score do not come through in this arrangement. The group of small pieces by Bruckner at the end, including the actually-for-brass Aequale (tracks 15 and 16), bring the program to an exquisitely meditative conclusion. There is some beautifully controlled brass playing by Septura on display, and the sound environment of St. Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, works well. Recommended for brass ensemble enthusiasts.

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