Brass ensemble and harp is an unlikely combination, but in the right hands, it is an effective one. The Annapolis Brass Quintet and harpist Heidi Lehwalder came up with three pieces for their program at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night, not by hook or by crook, but by commission, by arrangement and by great good luck.
The commissioned work was Robert Starer's "Annapolis Suite," written last year for Lehwalder and the quintet and premiered at last night's concert. It is a 15-minute piece in six crisp movements in which the brass, in an aggressive role, is given small bits of thematic material to play with while the harp contributes occasional harmonic commentary. The instruments are at their most compatible in the fourth movement, a litany in which there seems to be true cooperation toward a common goal. There are phrases that are reminiscent of Howard Hanson and a good deal of clever if not at all lyrical craftsmanship underlying this attractive addition to the repertoire.
The music arranged for this instrumentation was a set of three Renaissance dances by Susato in a nicely thought-out delegation of responsibilities in which the brass players, standing around like a street band, played the two raucus dances while the harpist took on the gentler one.
The great good luck came with the discovery of "Music for Scrimshaws" by William Schmidt, three movements with an underlying taste-of-the-sea chanty about them. Schmidt handles the difficulties inherent in this odd instrumentation with ease. The harp completes the brass statements, it fills in brass harmonies, smooths off sharp brass edges and, in general, complements the ensemble. The music is delightful and the instrumentation, masterly.
On her own, Lehwalder gave splendid, intelligent readings of five dances by Salzedo and the Hindemith Sonata. Her playing is solid and conservative, and focuses more on musical necessities than on decorative accessories.
The Quintet gave fine accounts of various Renaissance and Baroque pieces, overlaid with brilliant ornamentation, and a cheerful set of "Five Miniatures" by Robert Washburn.