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Christmas with Septura – Darke In the bleak midwinter

Many of the English choral pieces that we have re-imagined have been made famous by the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast worldwide on Christmas Eve from King’s College, Cambridge. Harold Darke’s nostalgic In the bleak midwinter has been a mainstay of that service since 1941, when he became the war-time Director of Music at King’s. He followed in the footsteps of Holst in setting the text by Christina Rossetti, but unlike Holst’s version, Darke’s isn’t strictly strophic. Instead, it alternates verses for solo voice and organ with ones for the full choir. In our transcription cup-muted instruments provide the organ accompaniment as the first verse (normally sung by a treble) is played by a solo trumpet, and the third (normally a baritone) employs the unique sound of a solo euphonium. In the second and fourth verses a quartet of instruments play the rôle of the choir.

Christmas with Septura – Tchaikovsky The Crown of Roses

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s The Crown of Roses is the first of several of our Christmas pieces that use the image of the Christ-child to presage the grim reality of Jesus’s fate. It is popular as a carol despite its stark subject—the other children made Jesus a crown of thorns “and with rough fingers pressed it down, till on his forehead fair and young, red drops of blood like roses sprung”. The text, by Richard Henry Stoddard, was translated into Russian and originally set by Tchaikovsky for voice and piano in his Sixteen Children’s Songs (1884). He later reworked this for a cappella choir, and this is the version that we have transcribed. Three verses and a coda in the sombre key of E minor contrast childlike innocence—for which we use the homogenous warmth of the brass section—with violence and pain—for which we unleash our full power.

Christmas with Septura – J. S. Bach Christmas Oratorio

It would be inconceivable to record a disc of the great music inspired by Christmas without making reference to Johann Sebastian Bach. We have created a little suite of two pieces, bound together (as Bach himself did in oratorios and cantatas) by two chorales. This is the triumphant climax of the final part of the Christmas Oratorio, and the virtuosic solo is played on a piccolo trumpet by Alan Thomas, as the chorus celebrate the failure of Herod’s plan.

Gabrieli – Canzon II for Trumpet Quartet

Our fourth Naxos recording looks back to the first golden age of brass chamber music: the Renaissance. The sacred choral works of four masters of the counter-reformation – Victoria, Gabrieli, Palestrina and Lassus – are a perfect fit for the musical and emotional compass of the brass septet. The result is a stunning survey of the culminations of the Spanish, Venetian, Roman and Franco-Flemish schools.

No brass series would be complete without Giovanni Gabrieli, and his music is the starting point as we continue on our counterfactual course.

Lassus – Lagrime di San Pietro

The Lagrime di San Pietro (Tears of St Peter) was the last composition by Lassus. A cycle of sacred madrigals, setting non-liturgical texts, the Lagrime relates the grief of St Peter after his denial of Christ. In its symbolism it is a perfect fit for Septura, because the number seven (representing the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary) abounds: it is set for seven voices; the total number of pieces (21) is seven times the number of the Holy Trinity; and Lassus uses just seven of the eight church modes, leaving the eighth out completely.

Teaser – Music for Brass Septet, Vol. 4 – May 2016

Here’s a short teaser for our fourth Naxos recording, in which we look to the first golden age of brass chamber music: the Renaissance. The sacred choral works of four masters of the counter-reformation – Victoria, Gabrieli, Palestrina and Lassus – are a perfect fit for the musical and emotional compass of the brass septet. The result is a stunning survey of the culminations of the Spanish, Venetian, Roman and Franco-Flemish schools.

No brass series would be complete without Giovanni Gabrieli, and his music is the starting point as we continue on our counterfactual course.

Scriabin – Prelude Op. 13, No. 1

Born into an aristocratic family in Moscow in 1872, Scriabin studied the piano at the Conservatory there (despite having unusually small hands) and the impact of his beloved Chopin is felt not just in the late-Romantic harmonic language of his early compositions, but in the genres he employed: notably, Scriabin composed nearly ninety solo piano preludes, spanning his entire compositional lifetime, and therefore charting his rapid stylistic development. Mostly tiny miniatures—concentrated musical aphorisms—they nevertheless vary wildly in mood and colour, and in these brass transcriptions we attempt to capture the extreme contrasts through varying instrument combinations, mutes and articulations.

This footage is from Septura’s recording sessions, and features Op. 13, No. 1. Majestically homophonic in texture, this prelude shrouds its C major tonality in ambiguity, avoiding any obvious perfect cadences in that key, and hinting at Scriabin’s future abandonment of functional tonality.

Trailer – Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Scriabin, Rachmaninov: Music for Brass Septet 3 (December 2015)

Stretching back from the stark Soviet soundscape of Shostakovich, through the early modernism of Prokofiev to the pre-revolutionary opulence of Scriabin and Rachmaninov, Septura redresses a lack of original music for brass by these great composers by charting a turbulent seventy years of Russian history. Brass instruments feature prominently in these composers’ symphonic output, and Septura is a natural fit for their chamber music. The focus here is on piano works with one prominent exception: perhaps Septura’s most ambitious transcription to date, Shostakovich’s profound and deeply personal Eighth String Quartet.

Rachmaninov – Slava! (Glory)

Rachmaninov’s career was still in its infancy (although he had already had considerable success with his one-act opera Aleko) when he composed his Op. 11 Six Morceaux, a suite in the long Russian tradition of four-hands piano music. The collection, of which we have recorded four movements, was written at breakneck speed in April 1894, and he conceded that its principal purpose was “to balance the books”.

This footage is from Septura’s recording sessions, and features the final movement, Slava!, as it builds towards an inextinguishably triumphant C major at its epic climax.

Shostakovich – Eighth String Quartet, movement 2

Septura’s third release for Naxos takes on the most venerated chamber music medium – the string quartet – and one of the most iconic works of their repertoire: Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet. Written in just 3 days in the ruins of post-war Dresden in 1960, the piece was dedicated “to the victims of fascism and war”. This footage is from Septura’s recording sessions, and features the dramatic second movement.

Teaser – Music for Brass Septet, Vol. 3 – December 2015

Here’s a very short teaser for our third Naxos recording, which charts a turbulent 70 years in Russian history, stretching back from the stark Soviet soundscape of Shostakovich, through the early modernism of Prokofiev to the pre-revolutionary opulence of Scriabin and Rachmaninov.

The music featured is perhaps Septura’s most ambitious transcription to date, Shostakovich’s profound and deeply personal Eighth String Quartet.

Meet Septura’s trumpets

We take you behind the scenes at one of our Naxos recording sessions to meet three of Septura’s trumpeters. Huw Morgan, Alan Thomas and Simon Cox introduce themselves and explain what they most enjoy about playing with the group.

A day’s recording in 30 seconds

We’ve condensed the essence of a day’s recording into 30 seconds.

Building up the Brass Chamber Music series for Naxos, we record at St Paul’s, New Southgate, in North London. The first step is to set up – converting this fantastic building from a place of worship into a recording studio. We then play and receive vital feedback from our producers and engineers, Phil Rowlands and Jim Unwin, and occasionally we pop into the box ourselves to have a listen. Hopefully we end up with a result that we’re all happy with – a piece convincingly re-imagined for brass septet – and then we just have to take the equipment down again, and we’re done until tomorrow!

Brahms – Geistliches Lied (live)

Brahms’ Geistliches Lied performed live as part of Septura’s Sacred & Profane programme, at the Royal Academy of Music, London, in September 2014.

Featured on our first Naxos disc, this arrangement by Artistic Director Matthew Knight uses cup mutes to re-create the original organ accompaniment, with cantabile un-muted instruments playing the choir’s voice parts.

Schumann – Zuversicht from Vier Doppelchörige Gesänge (live)

Schumann’s Zuversicht from Vier Doppelchörige Gesänge, performed live as part of Septura’s Sacred & Profane programme, at the Royal Academy of Music, London, in September 2014.

Featured on our first Naxos disc, this arrangement is by Artistic Director Simon Cox.

Trailer – Handel, Purcell, Rameau, Blow: Music for Brass Septet 2 (April 2015)

In our second disc we explore the glorious sound world of 17th-century theatre music, with a collection of four contrasting works by leading composers of the Baroque era reimagined for brass septet: suites from Rameau’s opera Dardanus and Handel’s Rinaldo, alongside Purcell’s The Curious Impertinent and a mournful masque from John Blow’s Venus and Adonis – the first English opera.

In this video, alongside featured clips from the recording sessions in May 2014, Artistic Directors Simon Cox and Matthew Knight introduce the ideas behind the disc.

Blow – Venus & Adonis

John Blow‘s opera is highly significant because it was the first English opera. As a result it seems a fitting choice for a British group; but it does pose arranging difficulties, through the sheer range of colours of the Baroque orchestra.

Artistic Director Matthew Knight adopts a wide range of mutes to create a variety of sounds in this arrangement, and this particular movement makes use of bucket mutes to create a beautiful, haunting sound.

Bruckner – Ave Maria

Bruckner‘s motet Ave Maria, performed live at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Handel – Sibilar gli angui from Rinaldo

Featuring Matthew Gee as Argante, King of Jerusalem, Septura record the aria Sibilar gli angui from Handel‘s opera Rinaldo. Volume 2 of Septura’s Naxos brass chamber music series is released in April 2015.

Argante:

All around I seem to hear
the hissing of Alecto’s serpents,
and the barking of hungry Scylla.
An evil poison creeps into my breast,
and has stung me
with the dull spark of fear.

Rameau – Suite from Dardanus

Septura recording the Overture from Dardanus by Jean-Philippe Rameau for their 2nd Naxos CD, to be released April 2015.

Trailer – Brahms, Bruckner, Mendelssohn, Schumann: Music for Brass Septet (August 2014)

Artistic Directors Simon Cox and Matthew Knight introduce the first volume of Septura’s Brass Chamber Music series for Naxos, released August 2014.

Featuring music by Schumann, Bruckner and Mendelssohn.

Bruckner – Os Justi

Septura play Os Justi by Bruckner

Os justi meditabitur sapientiam: et lingua ejus loquetur judicium.
Lex Dei ejus in corde ipsius: :et non supplantabuntur gressus ejus. Alleluia.
//
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.
The law of his God is in his heart: and his feet do not falter. Alleluia.

Schumann – Ungewisses Licht

Septura play Ungewisses Licht (Uncertain Light) from Schumann’s Vier Doppelchörige Gesänge (Op. 141). The text follows an intrepid traveller through the stormy wilderness, before a sudden light prompts (in our case) a lone trombone to ask, with a rising fourth, “is it love, is it death?”

Victoria – Congratulamini mihi

Septura play the motet Congratulamini mihi by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611).

Congratulamini mihi omnes qui diligitis Dominum,
quia cum essem parvula, placui Altissimo:
Et de meis visceribus genui Deum et hominem.
//
Rejoice with me, all ye that love the Lord,
for when I was small, I pleased the Most High:
And from my womb I brought forth God and man.

Mendelssohn – Sonata

An extract from Organ Sonata (Op. 65, No. 2) by Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847).

Septura – Music for Brass Septet

Septura play clips from the following works:

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 – 1746) – Suite from Dardanus
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611) – Congratulamini mihi
Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907) – Suite for Brass Septet
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 – 1943) – Russian Theme
Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) – Grande Marche