Kansas City – I will admit that I am one of those who had heard the Canadian Brass before, mostly on NPR and the BBC, but I had never actually properly heard of this fantastic quintet until tonight. The Canadian Brass are a world renowned brass quintet founded and based in, you guessed it, Canada. They have performed all across the planet both live in person and through the transmissional wonders of television and radio. Their membership includes five of the finest brass players in the world, with Americans Christopher Coletti, Caleb Hudson (Trumpets), Eric Reed (French Horn), Greek Achilles Liarmakopoulos (Trombone) and American-Canadian Chuck Dallenbach (Tuba) who was a co-founder of the original group in 1970.
In this concert presented by the Harriman-Jewell Series at the beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts’ Helzberg Hall, the Canadian Brass played with humour and demonstrated with flourish their fantastic musical abilities.
The quintet began with four pieces which depict the history and evolution of brass orchestration within Western classical music. These were English Renaissance composers Anthony Holborne’s (c. 1545-1602) Muy Linda, and John Dowland’s (1563-1626) Come Sweet Love, followed by early German Baroque composer Samuel Scheidt’s (1587-1654) Galliard Battaglia. These were played with charm and period enthusiasm, which as someone who has performed solely Early Music for the past few years, I throughly enjoyed.
This was followed by a set of selections from the Canadian Brass’ album Carnaval, which were taken from musical sketches for piano by Robert Schumann and arranged by the quintet’s own Coletti. These were a whirlwind characteristic of the carnival celebrations of Venice, with all the fun and excitement of that last day before the 40 days of purple-clad sorrow leading up to the Passion.
Following this jolly jaunt in the visions of Schumann, the quintet was joined by horn player Eric Reed’s father, the magnificent Douglas Reed, on the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ, which going along with the national theme of the night was built proudly in Québec City. Douglas Reed’s performance on the organ was stunning, and reminiscent of Midnight Mass when the church organ sings out for joy at Christ’s Birth. He joined the quintet for four pieces, Farué’s Cantique, and the traditional carols Jolly Old St. Nick, Good King Wenceslas, and Jingle Bells. My only complaint of the entire concert came at this point, as I found it a challenge to hear the quintet over the bellowing awesomeness of the organ. Here Herbert Spencer’s declaration of “survival of the fittest” rang loud and true with the organic domination over the brass below.
Following intermission, the Canadian Brass took the floor once again with a Killer Tango introduced to the ensemble by their Greek trombonist Liarmakopoulos. It was filled with the spices and flavour of an Argentine summer’s evening, the sweet scent of that magnificent South American flavouring oozing like sumptuous wine from the performance. This tango was followed by a performance of Coletti’s piece Bach’s Bells, an arrangement of a Bach cantata and Carol of the Bells, which I simply found confusing.
For the next three pieces, the Canadian Brass was joined by the William Jewell College Concert Choir, led by Dr. Anthony J. Maglione in performing three songs Angel and the Trumpeter, Sweet Songs of Christmas, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I enjoyed hearing the choir and the brass work together, as the dynamics of the voice and brass instrument seem to share some qualities, especially the ability for projection.
Following the departure of the William Jewell Concert Choir, the quintet honoured that other great holiday of December (and November this year), Hanukkah, by performing a jazzy set of Dreydel Variations. The Klezmer clarinet impersonation and strong high C’s of Coletti stole this part of the concert with drama worth of an operatic divo.
Finally, the highlight of the evening came with the quintet’s performance of a Suite from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen”. Not only did they play the music from that greatest of Bizet masterpieces, but they did it with such showmanship and flair that it left the audience standing on their feet in uproarious approval. I especially loved the change of the male lead from the Spanish soldier Don José to the Canadian soldier Don Jos eh.
Needless to say, tonight’s concert by the Canadian Brass was one to remember for its musicality, its showmanship, and its humour. I was expecting a small chamber orchestra of very serious, circle sitting brass players. What I heard was far from that, it was a group of five friends who were playing fantastically beautiful music, and having a good time whilst doing it.