The resounding majesty of brass has thrilled audiences since the days of Gabrieli in the Venetian San Marco's Cathedral. The American tradition of brass playing was established by the great bandsmen and soloist of the 19th century and developed by the best orchestral brass sections of the 20th. Today, it is respected the world over for its power, beauty, and accuracy. This recording presents the pristine phrasing and golden brass tone that powers one of the world's most beloved ensembles, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. These musicians are required, by trade, to evoke an encyclopedic range of emotions, thoughts, and psychological conditions with authority, precision and quickness. Nightly, they create fire and excitement in America's finest opera house with sweetly singing and soaring horns. From ringing open sounds, to muted effects, to pensive and tender quiet passages, the vanguard of 21st century brass playing is on display here...and it is a glorious thing to hear. - Wynton Marsalis
AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE REVIEW
American Record Guide JAN/FEB 2010 (pg. 257)
Metropolitan Opera Brass
WEBER: Hunter’s Chorus; STRAUSS: Arabella Duet; Zerbinetta’s Aria; KORNGOLD: Marietta’s Lied; BERLIOZ: Clair de Lune; Royal Hunt & Storm; MASCAGNI: Intermezzo; HUMPERDINCK: Evening Prayer; WAGNER: Reingold Scene 2
5th Show 18916--40 minutes
In April of 1968, history was made. For the first time ever, the famous brass sections from the orchestras of Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia sat down together to record the antiphonal music of Gabrieli (Sony 62353: Nov/Dec 1996). That legendary recording remains a testament to the playing and individuality of those fine musicians and the orchestras where they developed their "voices". In a time when excellent brass groups are a dime a dozen, it's a special treat to hear an ensemble of virtuosic, like-minded players coming from the same orchestra. Over the years, Europe has produced brass section recordings from orchestras in London, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Rotterdam; in America, I can think of only the Pittsburgh Symphony Brass, and now...the Metropolitan Opera Brass.
From the first notes of the pompous Hunter’s Chorus from Der Freischutz, it’s clear that the MET brass section carries on the 125-year tradition of world class performances coming from the Metropolitan Opera. The entire horn section is on display here in a tour de force of hunting horn fanfares, with trombones and timpani adding a solid foundation.
The next two works by Strauss show off the talents of MET principal trumpeter David Krauss. The lovely duet, `Und du Wirst Mein Gebieter Sein', from Arabella, is one of Strauss’s most ethereal, divine, and contemplative moments. Krauss displays a singing tone that is both luxurious and inviting and has just a hint of vibrato. In Zerbinetta’s Aria from Ariadne auf Naxos, Strauss’s unusual original orchestration is represented here by a fuller sounding accompaniment, with additional solos in the horn, trombone, and tuba. Again Krauss delivers a wonderfully sensitive and engaging performance, managing the difficult runs, trills, and soaring tessitura of the aria with ease and panache.
The liner notes suggest that this arrangement of `Marietta’s Lied' from Die Tote Stadt by Korngold was inspired by an affecting performance at the 2009 MET Gala by Renee Fleming. Here the brasses display a beautiful palette of color that perfectly creates the serene yet heartbreaking mood of Korngold’s original score.
The next two arrangements are from Les Troyens by Berlioz. Krauss is joined by the MET's principal trombone, Demian Austin, in a sensitive reading of the love duet, `Clair de Lune', the fourth act finale. They play fluidly and vocally; each line moves seamlessly into the next, supported by a flowing accompaniment of low brass, flugelhorns, and muted trumpets. The centerpiece of the program is most certainly the 'Royal Hunt and Storm' from Act IV, Scene 1. Scored for 23 players, it is the largest and most impressive arrangement here--and the first time we hear the full power and majesty of the MET brass section. The finely tuned, virtuosic playing of these musicians is represented here in spades, with close attention to ensemble balance in even the biggest of climaxes.
As if to cleanse the palate, the next two offerings explore the more lyrical and homogenous sound of the brass choir. The Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni is one of the most recognizable pieces on the recording. It was originally written for solo strings, but the brass gives a lovely performance that is characterized by warmth and tenderness. The Evening Prayer from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel is scored here for trumpet choir and explores colors ranging from the ringing brilliance of the higher C trumpet to the foreboding sonorities of the bass trumpet.
Concluding the program is a solemn performance of the Opening of Scene 2 from Das Rheingold. This recording took place just after a month-long complete Ring Cycle with music director James Levine. After revisiting his earlier DG recording of Das Rheingold (DG 427607: Sep/Oct 1990), it’s obvious to me that the MET brass section respect his tempos and style in this music--they are quite comparable.
One thing that struck me was the natural, "vocal-like" quality these musicians bring to the music. I suppose working in an environment like the MET, surrounded by the world’s greatest singers on a daily basis, has something to do with that. Any serious fan of the Metropolitan Opera or of brass music will not want to miss this beautifully played program. The MET brass section's full-bodied, rich, sonorous tone and sensitivity to balance has been matched only by a recent Concertgebouw Brass recording (RCO 7002: Nov/Dec 2007). That has the glowing acoustic of the Concertgebouw to its advantage; the MET Brass was recorded in the significantly drier Montclair Salvation Army Citadel. It is clear and natural, with just a bit of resonance--still, I can’t help but think it would've sounded much better in a concert hall. All of the arrangements are by John Sheppard and conducted by former MET principal trumpet, Mark Gould (1974-2003).
BRASS HERALD REVIEW
Compact Disc Review
Metropolitan Opera Brass: The Brass Section of the Metropolitan Opera
Orchestra performs arias and interludes from their favorite operas.
Opera orchestra musicians must have 'servant hearts," for their primary
roles are accompanying the singing and providing the appropriate atmosphere
and dramatic support to what goes on up above them. Yet the technical and
stamina demands made on an opera orchestra are equal to and frequently
exceed what is required on the symphonic concert stage. New York's
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra ranks at the very top of such 'pit' orchestras,
their almost legendary brass section exhibiting an impressive array of
individual talent and critically acclaimed ensemble playing. This new disc
(released fall 2009) allows the general music buff as well as brass
aficionado an excellent sound profile of this outstanding brass section. Up
to as many as 21 individual brass players, plus a few percussion, join
together on nine excerpts from the Romantic operatic repertoire. John
Sheppard has supplied the tasteful arrangements and former co-principal
trumpet Mark Gould provides the steady baton. The sound and blend are
excellent and the overall presentation handsomely and thoughtfully produced,
including informative notes by Sheppard on the music and personnel details
for each item.
The opening track is the catchy Hunter's Chorus from Der Freischütz (von
8 horns antiphonally spaced into two stereo choirs, supported by 3 tenor
trombones, 2 bass trombones, and timpani. What a spectacular beginning! I
knew I was hooked right from the first exuberant notes by the horns. Each
successive track has a different instrumentation, ranging from the massive
forces needed for the Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens (Berlioz) to a
small choir of 5 C trumpets, 2 B-Flat trumpets, and 2 bass trumpets for
Evening Prayer from Hansel und Gretel (Humperdinck). The Berlioz array is
particularly impressive: 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 2 flugelhorns, 1 bass
trumpet, 8 French horns, 3 tenor trombones, 2 bass trombones, 1 tuba,
timpani, and 1 additional percussion. The massive sound at full tutti is
never overblown, distorted, or coarse, as can so often occur from lips of
Principal Trumpet David Krauss delivers particularly elegant and technically
assured solos throughout, but especially on Zerbinetta's Aria from Ariadne
auf Naxos (R. Strauss). His handling on cornet of the demanding coloratura
line and ornaments comes across as effortless. Lyricism reigns here and at
so many other moments in the album. Trombonist Damian Austin also handles
with aplomb upfront spots in the subtler Clair de Lune from Les Troyens
(Berlioz) as well as the concluding Wagner excerpt. In the midst of the
full ensemble items some exquisite, unacknowledged solos take the breath
away, like the horn solos in the ever-popular Intermezzo from Cavalleria
Two lesser-known excerpts from late Romanticism make a fine impression--a> love duet from Arabella (R. Strauss) and Marietta's Lied from Die tote Stadt (Korngold). The disc closes in a warm, golden manner with the Opening of
Scene II from Das Rheingold (Wagner). Part of that warmth comes with the
inclusion of 4 Wagner Tuben to the normal alignment of 3 German-style rotary
trumpets, 1 bass trumpet, 4 horns, 2 trombones, 2 bass trombones, tuba, and
timpani. The Met had concluded Wagner's Ring cycle just prior to the
recording session, so the excerpt was the ideal choice as the disc closer.
The variety of brass timbres heard throughout the disc, whether it be the
fine mix in the soprano range of cornets, flugels, and trumpets, or in the
wonderful colors this horn section can offer up at a moment's notice,
has high attraction value and staying power.
Throughout the short program attention to detail and clarity of musical line
makes this a wonderful recording to treasure for many years. My only
complaint might be that it is too short, just 40 minutes of music--but what
minutes! Too often we get brass CDs of 75+ minutes, much of the program
jammed with inconsequential material or poorly prepared music. Not so here!
I can heartily agree with Wynton Marsalis' generous, yet accurate
testimonial that opens the sleeve booklet: ".the vanguard of 21st century
brass playing is on display here.and it is a glorious thing to hear."
Available at WorldofBrass, or Metropolitan Opera's website: HYPERLINK
"http://www.metoperafamily.org/shop " http://www.metoperafamily.org/shop http://www.metoperafamily.org/shop>
> Ronald W. Holz