Pan Haronia's “2nd Sunday @ 5” chamber music program for August at the Altamont Theatre featured the Appalachian Brass Quintet. Jennifer Merrell replaced the quintet’s usual French horn player, but the other four musicians were regulars: Larry Black and Casey Coppenbarger on trumpets, Greg Love on trombone and William Bryant on tuba.
The program began with Samuel Scheidt’s Canzona Bergamasca. Scheidt’s dates are close to identical to those of Bach and Handel, and he had a significant part in the development of the German baroque out of its Italian precursor. The counterpoint in this Canzona is intensive and successful, beginning with a pleasant stretto (overlapping statements of a fugal subject by the various instruments) and continuing with many variations. The timbre of the two trumpets in tight collaboration is frequently contrasted with the timbre of the trombone and horn; later the trombone and the tuba are similarly contrasted. This work is something of a baroque standard, beloved by brass players and presented enthusiastically in this performance.
Two pieces on the program were 20th century suites, while the other two were single-movement works, one from the 20th century and one from the 21st. We were also treated to a brief 20th century encore, Wilke Renwick’s "Dance." Of the single-movement pieces, the most interesting was Kevin McKee’s "Vuelta del Fuego" (which translates as “Ride of Fire”). The composer says this 2008 composition should remind the listener of Zorro. Larry Black on lead trumpet displayed the required full, rich, clear Spanish bravado, never descending into brashness or brassy excess. I felt that the trombone’s intonation suffered briefly, but otherwise the ensemble managed long accelerandos and other crowd-pleasing effects with unabashed flair and swagger. Like Zorro, they left their mark.
Morley Calvert (1928-1991) was a bandmaster and composer born in Brantford, Ontario (where my great-grandfather homesteaded in 1856). Calvert’s Suite from the Montregian Hills utilizes French-Canadian folk songs, and was written for the Montreal Brass Quintet. The Montregian Hills include Mount Royal, the hill after which Montreal is named, and where Calvert spent much of his career. The four-movement work has its moments of Gallic whimsy, especially in the third-movement "Valse Ridicule."
The most musically interesting piece on the program was the other suite, Collier Jones’s Four Movements for Five Brass. Jones also was born in Canada, but his conservatory training and career were in the United States. This suite was commissioned and championed by the New York Brass Quintet. The extensive use of mixed meters gives the work much of its interest and much of its challenge. The third movement Waltz mixes 3/4 and 2/4 meters, giving sometimes the sense of a conventional 3/4 waltz and sometimes the sense of a “5/4 waltz” reminding me of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin and his "Pathetique" Symphony. The final allegro, also in mixed meter, is uncompromisingly 20th century neoromanticism.
Introducing this concert, impresario Kate Steinbeck told the audience that the “2nd Sunday @ 5” series had been an experiment. At the seventh of ten events in this “experiment,” she was speaking to more than seventy fans. There’s room for only a few dozen more at this venue, and I recognized many repeat customers. It would appear that this joint venture of Pan Harmonia and the Altamont has been a resounding success, and presumably will continue.