The Empire Brass' concert at the Terrace Theater last night was a nearly flawless display of musical command and confident ensemble play. The quintet began with Samuel Scheidt's "Canzona Bergamasca," with the trumpets of Rolf Smedvig and Timothy Morrison locked in a crisp exchange of baroque phrases. That fine balance of controlled power and clean articulation marked virtually all of the concert, including the group's arrangement of Mozart's Horn Quintet in E-Flat Major, K. 407, in which David Ohanian's rich horn was particularly impressive.
The musicians were just as comfortable in Alvin Quintet for Brass Instruments, a thunderous work mimicking the Morse code in syncopated snippets and drawing inspiration from avant-garde jazz. The dissonant Etler score was followed by a lyric touch -- the group's suite transcribed from Bernstein's "West Side Story." The final encore was a glorious "Stars and Stripes Forever," with Samuel Tilfian Playing the piccolo part on his tuba.
The concert's one off-key note was the result of a glitch: A piccolo trumpet had been lost in transit, so they were unable to play Handel's Overture to the "Royal Fireworks Music." They replaced it with a difficult Handel arrangement they hadn't played in several months. Understandably, ensemble got ragged; rather than muddle through, Smedvig commanded "halt," explained the adverse circumstances and said the group would start again and play it right, which they did.