The very first moment of the Western Brass Quintet concert Thursday night was a bright, clean fanfare, skillfully played by trumpeter Scott Thornburg. Unfortunately, it was easily three times too loud for the intimate confines of the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater and set the tone for a concert that, though unfailingly well played, often was just too loud to allow the music to take shape in the hall.
The ensemble -- Thornburg, trumpeter Stephen Jones, hornist Johnny Pherigo, trombonist Steve Wolfinbarger and tuba player Robert Whaley -- chose an eclectic program, which ranged from Gershwin, Scott Joplin and Fats Waller selections to a theaterlike piece, masques and anti-masques, based on music by 17th-century English composer John Adson and some rather inexpertly read selections of verse by John Milton. The quietest and most exceptional playing of the evening came in American composer Alvin Etler's 1963 Quintet for Brass Instruments, a spare, formal work built on a driving rhythmic pattern. The ensemble met the heavy technical demands of this dissonant virtuoso music with ease and gave the piece a fine sense of shape. Unnecessary, however, were trumpeter Jones's patronizing introductory about how "difficult to listen to" the Etler was. No composer needs the added problem of having his music described as "tough" to an audience that is new to it.