Concerts in large spaces such as the Washington Cathedral's present special problems, but also unique pleasures. Sometimes, no matter how appropriately written the music, certain things just won't go. But if any combination of instruments seems at home in such a place, it is that of brass and organ. A concert last night featuring the Annapolis and Bowie Brass Quintets, assisted by organist Robert W. Lehman, exactly fit the bill.
What there was to enjoy chiefly in this program, besides the very good playing throughout, was the blood-warming thrill of all 11 players together at full throttle, as in the final measures of a toccata by Frescobaldi, or those of the last offering, Richard Strauss's 1909 fanfare "Solemn Entry of the Knights of the Order of St. John." Another treat was the program's diversity. It was not just the "obligatory antiphonal music" (in Annapolis trumpeter Robert Suggs's words) and British transcriptions always filling brass quintet concerts. It also featured things such as Elam Ray Sprankle's thoroughly American "Three Sketches on a Southern Hymn Tune."
And sure, the antiphonal stuff -- a couple of Gabrieli canzoni, a modern fanfare and a set of Elizabethan dances by Holborne, tossed back and forth in just the right arrangement -- caught our interest as the two quintets positioned themselves half a nave apart. It's always fun to see the music stay together, even if you can't quite hear it that way.