Tuesday 26 January 2016

The Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble bring great musicianship and terrific flair to a varied program for MSR Classics

The name alone is enough to attract interest in the Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble http://gargoylebrass.com . However, it is fine musicianship that holds the attention on their new release for MSR Classics www.msrcd.com entitled Flourishes, Tales and Symphonies.

The Chicago Gargoyle Brass Quintet began in 1992 as a chamber group of faculty and students at the University of Chicago, whose campus architecture boasts a variety of the gargoyles that gave the ensemble its name. By 2006 the ensemble had slowly become professional with a full-time professional church and concert organist. Over the next five years, the group transformed itself into a specialised brass and organ concert ensemble.

They perform a wide variety of repertoire in an equally diverse range of settings. The group has toured Minnesota, performed major liturgical works, commissioned and recorded exciting new works and given concerts for chapters of the American Guild of Organists.

Under Founder and Artistic Director Rodney Holmes, the Ensemble has recorded here a wide variety of works at two locations, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, Wheaton, Illinois and the First Untied Church, Oak Park, Illinois.

Prize winning composer Carlyle Sharpe (b.1965) http://www2.drury.edu/csharpe  is professor of music theory and composition at Drury University. Flourishes (2005, 2010) was commissioned by Drury University with an added timpani part at the request of this Ensemble. There are bright, light textures as this joyful piece flows ahead, overlaid with flourishes from the brass, with many fine individual contributions from the brass players and a very fine organ part.

Sharpe’s Prelude, Elegy and Scherzo (2012) was commissioned by the Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble for the 2012 Organ Historical Society National Convention in Chicago. There is a fine Prelude where the organ rises up confidently before taking the theme forward, soon joined by the brass ensemble as they slowly add textures and colours. They achieve a fine balance between brass and organ in the more dynamic passages.  The organ brings a lovely, reflective Elegy most beautifully played by Jared Stellmacher with a fine choice of registration. As the brass gently enter, they add a really fine texture before weaving some lovely instrumental lines. The movement rises midway to a peak before the organ takes the music on alone through some lovely passages to a long held, peaceful coda. Organ and brass sound out triumphantly for the Scherzo with some incisive and finely blended brass chords before swirling through some fine passages to the coda.

These are two very attractive and brilliantly played works.

The Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble next play an arrangement by Craig Garner of Giuseppe Verdi’s (1813-1901) Libiamo ne’ lieti calici from La Traviata (1853, 2013). The organ opens this arrangement soon taken over by the brass ensemble as both organ and brass share the theme with varied brass textures. Eventually both organ and brass combine to race to the end of this fun piece.  

Composer William White (b.1983) www.willcwhite.com also holds the post of assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The Dwarf Planets (2012), inspired by Holst’s famous Planets Suite, was commissioned by and dedicated to Rodney Holmes and the Gargoyle Brass Quintet. The brass ensemble and organ bring a dynamic opening to Haumea pointing up by timpani. They move through more diffuse passages where White conjures some fine textures. There is a wilder section as the brass are scattered around against the organ before the opening theme leads to the coda.

With Pluto the organ gently brings a cool, distant atmosphere before various brass enter to add a melancholy theme. Pedal notes are set against the opening theme before trumpets repeat the opening and the music falls to a deep pedal note to end. Brass open Ceres with a jolly dancing theme to which further brass and organ join, each having a say, including timpani. Later there is a quaint fairground style tune before the music rises with the opening motif to speed to the coda.

Eris for solo organ opens on a repeated note to which chords are added and developed, gently and quietly, creating a fine atmosphere. A sudden sequence of organ notes clashes across the calm over the repeated gentle note before a hushed coda. Brass open Makemake, slowly rising up and increasing in dynamics before the organ enters with swirling phrases and timpani rolls. Soon the organ sets a fast pace to which timpani and brass respond with much virtuosity in this exciting movement.

David Marlatt (b.1973) www.linkedin.com/in/david-marlatt-b69a2b7 is an Ontario music educator, composer and performing musician. Earthscape (2011) was inspired by the view of our planet from space. There is a rich, gentle organ opening to which brass add a mellifluous sonority, various brass instruments weaving a lovely sound, all underpinned by an organ layer. The music rises later in a fine passage pointed up by timpani before finding its gentle opening stance to lead to the coda. This is a lovely work, expertly played.

The Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble follow up with another arrangement by Craig Garner, this time the Polka and Fugue from Schwanda, the Bagpiper (1926, 2013) by Jaromír Weinberger (1896-1967). The Polka rises up quickly with organ and brass, before finding its forward flowing rhythmic tune, a very fine and entertaining performance in a fine arrangement. The organ plays the lively opening to the Fugue with the brass creating an exhilarating fugue. Brilliantly done.

Adagio and Maestoso from Camille Saint-Saëns’ (1835-1921) Symphony No.3 ‘Organ’ (1886, 2012) is also arranged here by Craig Garner. The Adagio brings a fine arrangement, with brass providing wonderful sonorities and textures in place of the orchestral part, finely balanced between organ and brass. There is some really fine playing here from all concerned.

Jared Stellmacher provides a fine organ flourish in the opening of the Maestoso before the brass join. When pianist Mark Sudeith joins there is a remarkably lighter sound but the music soon rises through some fine passages, full of terrific textures and sonorities to a spectacular coda.

This program concludes with Peter Meechan’s (b.1980) www.petermeechanmusic.co.uk Velvet Blue (2012). Commissioned by the Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble, it opens with a flourish from the organ before a trumpet takes over with a theme. The organ brings a variation of the flourish, more florid before the brass lead on with the slower theme. There is a more extended version of the flourish from the organ before brass bring a sultry, bluesy, jazz inspired passage complete with drum kit. The organ is heard again as the music builds in intensity with even the king of instruments bringing a jazz inspired touch as they all move forward in a syncopated passage. This is a wildly inventive piece, ideal to round of this programme.

The Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble bring great musicianship and terrific flair to this varied program that gives much enjoyment.

All the recordings are clear, spacious and first rate, as well as ideally balanced. 

The booklet is nicely illustrated with colour photos and basic information on the two organs used. There are notes about each work.

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