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Dacapo - The National Music Anthology of Denmark

Format:  CD

Catalogue Number:  8.226001

Barcode:  636943600122

Release Date:  Aug 2003

Period:  Early 20th Century


Art of Brass Copenhagen: From the Merry Life of a Spy

11 October 2003  Classics Today (10/10)
David Hurwitz

This absolutely brilliant disc should give fans of great brass playing something to cheer about. It contains a vast range of music that offers a veritable clinic on the extended range and versatility of the brass quintet medium in six works by five composers, every one of which has something worthwhile to offer. Mogens Andresen and Axel Jorgensen represent the more traditional, Romantic/Nationalist school, and while neither could be said to be a major composer, both certainly had abundant practical experience in writing for brass instruments. Indeed, as the booklet notes correctly point out, Jorgensen's Quintet of 1942 is something of a milestone, having been composed some decades before the medium of brass quintet established itself as distinct and worthy of serious attention.

But "serious attention" certainly characterizes the rest of the music here. Vagn Holmboe couldn't write a bad note of music if he tried, and his two quintets ought to be held in the same sort of reverence as, say, Holst's two suites for band. They are witty, attractive, utterly ingratiating works that wear their modernity lightly but never once sound cheap or facile. Ib Norholm's From the Memory of a Spy uses advanced playing techniques in the service of an amusing story that involves an opening "conspiracy" (whispered principally by muted trumpets), the spy's slightly suspicious girlfriend, and a final chase with shootout. It's a hoot. Finally, Anders Nordentoft's Three Studies revel in sounds you probably never believed possible coming from five brass instruments. A virtuoso study in texture, the piece offers perhaps less of musical substance but certainly provides plenty to titillate the ear.

It goes almost without saying that The Art of Brass Copenhagen plays all of this music with proprietary zest. Brass quintets are notoriously difficult to record well, and Dacapo has struck a near-perfect balance between warmth, clarity, and a big dynamic range. This means that Norholm's conspirators whisper with sufficient clarity while the ample sonorities of the Andresen and Jorgensen pieces fill the recording space with aptly ringing tones. It's also worth complimenting Dacapo on its attractive new packaging and presentation, which makes the disc look less like a publicly subsidized arts project and more like a tastefully assembled musical production of self-evident appeal--which is exactly what this is!

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