American Brass Quintet Gives Concert at Kennedy Center

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The American Brass Quintet gave a concert at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Tuesday evening, celebrating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the group's founding. The limited appeal of an evening of brass chamber music drew a fairly small crowd to this concert on the Fortas Chamber Music series. By informal survey, not a few of those in the audience were current or former brass players themselves.

Historical music written for this combination tended to serve a few clearly defined functions, such as the fanfare and the brief, diverting sonata to fill a large space with sound. The group featured a few works in both of those genres on its relatively short program, opening with three late Renaissance canzonas. It was a good introduction to the exceptionally clean ABQ sound, music played with nearly impeccable intonation and accuracy, some muffed notes in the French horn aside, and with each polyphonic entrance of the subject clearly etched in incisive rhythm.

Osvaldo Lacerda's "Quinteto Concertante" showed a sense of humor in the treatment of these instruments, featuring a buffoonish tenor trombone solo in a circuslike first movement. The zany rhythms of Anders Hillborg's "Brass Quintet" were replete with bleats and blats and wailing Doppler-effect crescendos.

The work that stood on its own most effectively was saved for last, "Copperwave" by Joan Tower. The American composer's exploration of the brass quintet's possible colors, in swirling runs with a funky South American groove, was compelling. Even so, it was hard not to listen to such a concert, even with a very fine brass quintet, without wondering if it had been too much.

-- Charles T. Downey

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