Always eager to explore new material and to expand its repertoire, the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble turns its attention to twentieth century works in this double-disc collection from Decca. The literature for brass has grown considerably in the modern era, and many composers have turned to the brass choir as an ideal medium for hard-edged sonorities, transparent counterpoint, and harmonic clarity. Though much of this music tends toward conservative tastes -- fanfares dominate and triadic and quartal harmonies are prevalent -- there is enough stylistic diversity in the program to sustain the listener's interest. Dignified works by Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett, and Arthur Bliss are balanced with droll pieces, such as Leonard Salzedo's Divertimento, André Previn's Four Outings, and the delightful Sonata for horn, trumpet, and trombone by Francis Poulenc. Havergal Brian's menacing Fanfare from The Cenci and Gunther Schuller's somber Symphony for brass and percussion introduce more challenging harmonies and darker colors while showing that this group's expressive range is indeed broad. Some familiar works are also presented, such as the Sokol Fanfare from Leos Janácek's Sinfonietta and Kurt Weill's Kleine Dreigroschenmusik, and both receive fine performances on this album. The recorded sound is excellent, capturing the bright resonance of this ensemble in a responsive acoustic.
The 20th Century Album Review
by Blair Sanderson