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Gramophone, October 2004

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Christopher Howell
MusicWeb International, October 2004

"There’s nothing better than a bright fanfare to start the day with but there is also such a thing as the law of diminishing returns. In the same way as, just because one apple a day keeps one doctor away it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can keep 76 of them from baying at your door by stuffing 76 apples down your throat in 24 hours, a day which begins with 76 fanfares, imperial or not, will not necessarily be 76 times brighter. There used to be a jolly song about "76 trombones all in a row" but I forget what happened to them.

Well, having got the wisecracks off my chest it would be nice to say that in the event it was all much more varied than I feared, and up to a point it was. Within the limits of the genre there is a fair contrast between lively ones and solemn ones, and by stretching the genre such pieces as Altenburg’s touching "Prière du Matin" and the well-known Monteverdi piece have got in. Other high points along the way are Pezel’s perky "Intrada" which seems to have the "Trumpet Voluntary" on its brain, except that it must be pure coincidence, and Biber’s "Intrada" in which a solo trumpet gives out typical fanfare motives while the others hold a single chord for 2’ 14". Did circular breathing already exist in those days or is staggered breathing cunningly used to give the illusion of a single, sustained chord? Either way, I felt my own breath running out as I listened.

The better-known names do not always stand out above the crowd; of the French group Lully does not sound anything special, Charpentier perhaps does. Many of the modern fanfares last a bare 11 seconds and one’s reaction is inclined to be "and so what?" On the other hand, when Modart ("Il Giorno del silenzio") and Bolten ("Wrapped in Mystery", an instant reaction to the terrorist attack of 11th September) are allowed to spread themselves a little (respectively 1’ 55" and 2’ 59", the longest piece on the disc), they do not appear to have a lot to say.

I also wonder why there is a chronological gap between the mid-19th Century Gordigiani and the contemporary pieces. Just to remain with my own particular obsession, it might have been interesting to have heard Stanford’s "Flourish of Trumpets for the Imperial Durbar of Delhi" (you can’t get much more imperial than that!) but there must be plenty of other material from the late 19th Century and the 20th.

In short, if you have to compile a disc of 76 fanfares, given the reservation above, this is the way to do it. But why should you have to? One reason might be, if you are trying to sell the music, and in fact we are given an address from which sheet music of the anonymous works and those of Bolten, Leeb and Modart can be obtained. So perhaps the original idea was simply to provide an illustrated catalogue. But even so, I’m not convinced that band leaders will flock to buy. Do Leeb’s solo fanfares, for instance, contain anything that any competent trumpeter could not improvise for the occasion rather than have scores sent from Vienna? And might not the ensemble fanfares similarly stimulate emulation rather than purchase?

It remains to be said that the ensemble is a fine one, well-recorded, and might profitably give us some more sustained works. In truth, all this fanfare material would have been better used to fill odd spaces in such discs.

It’s difficult to see who to recommend this to, but if you want 76 fanfares you know where to get them."

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, October 2004

Hell’s Bells how am I going to review this one? 76 Imperial Fanfares, 76 Trombones, Four and Twenty Blackbirds – where does one start. How, in actual fact, does one start? Well then, the disc is divided into types – Processional, Occasional, Ceremonial, Table – and we’re already sounding suspiciously like Hamlet’s advice to the Player King; there’s Ceremonial-Gala, there’s Processional-Electoral, there’s Equestrian-Aria. The sub divisions are seemingly – but thankfully not – endless.

Take a look at the composers; then reflect on the fact that most of these pieces last between thirty seconds and one minute thirty-five. When we get to the oddly tacked on Contemporary Fanfares from Joel Modart (b. 1962), Leonhard Leeb (b.1962 – and the director of the band) and Leon Bolten (b.1962 – what was it about 1962?) and you find that some of them last just eleven seconds. I don’t know what you can get up to in eleven seconds but I can tell you that a Contemporary Fanfare doesn’t cover a great deal of Monteverdian ground in that time.

All right, what have we got here? Salieri was clearly a master of this most external of musical arts – his Imperial Fanfare is striking but there’s a most diverting and anonymous Procession from Salzburg (the aptly titled Majestic Procession) that really does live up to its name and makes one inquisitive as to its composer. I enjoyed the antiphonal effects of Altenburg’s Morning Prayer, the crispness of Pezels’ brief Intrada (brief is I suppose in this context oxymoronic) and the amplitude of the Cavalli. The Monteverdi is the Prelude to Orfeo. As usual Biber turns in one of the more extraordinary compositions; if you thought he confined technical challenges to the violin think again when you hear his amazing Intrada for Trombet undt musicalischen Tafeldienst. The solo trumpet plays over a massed sustained note from the band - a remarkable feat. Lully’s The Descent of Mars starts rather innocuously but then becomes decidedly and determinedly – almost daemonically – Olympian and there’s some wrong note wit from Philidor. As for the contemporary works, well I’m not quite sure what they’re doing here, unless it’s to demonstrate a continuum of some sort. There’s a touch of the Coplands about Modart’s Entrée Fanfare and Bolten’s New Palace Fanfare (37 seconds long) is grand and knowingly old fashioned. The only piece to get one’s musical teeth into is his Wrapped in Mystery, a three-minute work strong on pensive intensity and inspired by the World Trade Centre attack – but it seems in this line-up to have wandered in by mistake from some album of brass tone poems. We end with three older Fanfares – to round things off I suppose. In our end is our beginning; it’s back to confident Salieri to transport us to Vienna.

Who is this disc for? Who will listen to it? How did I manage to write this much? I have no answers to any of these questions – but I am off to listen to Bruckner 7.

"The performances are appropriately stirring, ceremonial, attention-grabbing, even mournful... For what it is...this CD is excellent."

Scott Morrison, August 2003

"The performances are appropriately stirring, ceremonial, attention-grabbing, even mournful... For what it is...this CD is excellent."

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