The University of Maryland hosted dueling as a non-contact sport Tuesday night when trumpeters Steven Hendrickson and David Flowers briefly went at each other in Samuel Scheidt's "Galliard Battaglia." This was a friendly sparring match, actually, with participation by trombonist Milton Stevens, horn player Edwin Thayer and tuba player David Bragunier, who are all National Symphony principals and collectively make a top brass quintet. Their imaginative program, which spared neither virtuosity nor wit, crammed the small Tawes Theatre with a myriad of sounds ranging from a sigh to a full-bore roar.
Without any music source restrictions, the group achieved success even in the unlikeliest places. An arrangement of Debussy's piano prelude "The Girl With the Flaxen Hair" cast this familiar work in a somber light, while the transcribed Welsh hymn tune of Vaughan Williams's "Rhosymedre" (written for organ) possessed a dark, mysterious beauty abetted by Hendrickson and Flowers's switch to fluegelhorn, Stevens's to euphonium. On the raucous side, the quintet's first encore, "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," kicked into New Orleans party gear after Flowers gave the count-off.
"Laudes," a 1971 piece by Jan Bach, exposed the different voices attainable by five brass instruments, notably their delicate ensemble possibilities requiring mutes -- megaphone-sized for the French horn. French composer Eugene Bozza's "Sonatine" demanded the most exacting playing all evening, and the musicians responded accordingly. Though "Sonatine" truly may be the war horse that Bragunier described to the audience, the NSO brass principals rode it proudly and well.