Thursday, August 31, 2006

4 Trombones a CD review

High Anxiety Bones Trombone Quartet too scared to play: Albany, TROY 346

Last weekend the radio program “From the Top” featured four teenagers playing the Trombone Quartet of Walter Ross. Not knowing Ross’ music and not knowing the literature for trombone quartet I hadn’t expected such a substantial or interesting piece. Looking it up online I saw this CD, ordered it and am now recommending it for the Ross and the rest of the pieces on it.

Maybe I should tell you that my two best friends in college were trombone players. I’ve known lots of trombone players and have only ever met one I didn’t like. Could be that biases me, though I’m no brass fanatic. My experience with french horn and trumpet players is a mixed bag and tubists, best not to go there. Put them together and what has happened to brass quintet playing over the past two decades is sad. Hijinks more than high art.

This CD of the High Anxiety Bones contains ensemble playing at a very high and serious level. Being four trombones alone, the sound is somber and rich sometime but that’s only a small part of it. This is not monochromatic, not all velvety umber tones and charcoal smudges. Sometimes it is crisp and bright, sometimes blazing.

The playing on the Handle Suite, arranged by Ernst Miller, is a good indication that they cover a range of sounds and articulations. The Alfred Hornoff Suite that follows and Two Pieces by Jules Semler-Collery are 19th century romantic music and a sort of romantic-impressionist fusion played with remarkable elegance of the kind those idioms require.

The Walter Ross Quartet is a very fine piece. Edgy and pensive in the first movement, stoically melancholic in the middle Chorale and assertively disputatious in the concluding movement. I’ll be looking for more of his music.

There are two pieces by a member of the High Anxiety Bones, Raymond Premru who died in 1998; his Tissington Variations and In Memoriam which was recorded after his death with Andrew Hicks playing bass trombone. These are much more than just pieces written by a trombonist for his own instrument. The variations are some of the best music I’ve heard written for a brass ensemble of any kind. Premru was clearly a real composer, he is also famous for having played trombone on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and numerous other albums.

In addition to the Handel, other arrangements by Miller on the disc include 16th Century chansons by Jannequin and Duboys as well as anonymous. There is a surprisingly good arrangement of an Elegy by Grieg. I wouldn’t have thought would work but it does. These being trombonists you aren’t surprised to find the Jimmy Van Heusen song I’m Getting Sentimental Over You which comes right after Like Someone in Love. These are arranged quite well by another HAB member, the well known jazz trombonist, Paul Ferguson, played with not too much sentimentality, high art, not hijinks.

The other members of the High Anxiety Bones were Steven Witser and Edward A. Zadrozny.

This is the kind of recording you listen to and suddenly wonder why trombone quartet isn’t a more commonly heard ensemble anymore, they used to be very common. Maybe it’s because finding brass players of this ability and seriousness isn’t as easy as it should be today. I hope the teenagers who were on the radio last week aspire to play this well. They’re pointed in that direction.

Post more CD reviews. I like the politics but the reviews are good too.
Thank you, I'm happy to do anything that requires me to listen to more music.

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