Expedition Audio: ‘spectacularly virtuosic playing’

Paul Ballyk
Expedition Audio, 8 May 2015

This album was an obvious recommendation hearing only the opening bars of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Suite from Dardanus, gracefully rendered with a sparkle and finesse that could stand easily beside any version I’ve heard. Musical sensibilities, tonal beauty, balance, intonation, technique… all struck me as faultless. Performing on this Naxos CD is Septura, a modern instrument brass ensemble comprised of three trumpets, two tenor trombones, one bass trombone and tuba. Each member of Septura is a principal player in a major British orchestra.

Brass players know, the richest body of music for brass ensemble was composed without any of their instruments in mind whatsoever (unless you count the trombone’s dissimilar sounding predecessor, the sackbut). Music that wasn’t possible for brass instrumentalists to play before valves were added to their instruments in the early 19th century, suddenly became a treasure-trove, ripe for transcription. Perhaps it’s the compatible sonorities and homogeneity of tone across the entire range of the instruments, much like a viol consort, that makes the repertoire work so well for brass. Maybe it’s that the music benefits from the wide dynamic range brass instruments can bring, challenged only by a pipe organ. Whatever the reason, these arrangements have been so popular, it’s conceivable that more music has been transcribed from the Renaissance and Baroque eras for brass than any comparable generic reworking.

This is the second CD featuring Septura on the Naxos label. The program of the earlier release offered transcriptions of nineteenth-century choral and organ works  (NXS 8573314); this release focuses on arrangements of 17th century French, English and Italian opera. Aside from Rameau’s Dardanus mentioned above, there’s music from Blow’s Venus and Adonis, Purcell’sThe Curious Impertinent and Handel’s Rinaldo. The music as it is presented here is intended to be enjoyed on its own terms. If you’re a period performance purist, to the exclusion of all else, you’ll likely want to pass (and you also probably didn’t read down this far anyway).

Devoted brass music fans absolutely must not miss Septura’s spectacularly virtuosic playing! However, even if you do not often listen to brass, you owe it to yourself to hear what finesse is possible at the highest level of the art.