New Recording Spotlights Brilliant Brass Sound of Chicago

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Doomsayers warn that a homogeneous international style is infecting orchestras around the world – that a symphony in Russia or Italy sounds no different than one in Los Angeles or New York these days.

While it’s true that many ensembles are drawing from an increasingly global pool of musicians, thus eliminating regional qualities, it’s also true that one group in particular maintains a particularly unique sound: that being the Chicago Symphony and its mighty brass section. It’s a sound characterized not only by sheer decibels but also a fullness, warmth and yes, delicacy. The brass section has just released an album that puts its trademark brilliance in the spotlight, with works by Gabrieli, Bach, Grainger, Prokofiev, Walton and Revueltas.

Chicago’s brass first came into focus under Fritz Reiner in the 1950s and it grew in power under Georg Solti in the 1970s, occasionally to the point where the sound bordered on caricature (when the orchestra played Berlioz or Mahler, it was sometimes called a brass section with accompanying strings). Still, figures like principal tuba Arnold Jacobs and Adolph “Bud” Herseth, the orchestra's legendary principal trumpeter, took orchestra brass playing to new levels. While new blood has since arrived, the basic character remains.

Included here are three antiphonal works by Giovanni Gabrieli, delivered with precision and drama; the recording’s engineers separated the two brass choirs into left and right stereo channels to give you the same perspective enjoyed by those in the center of a concert hall or church. Particularly hair-raising is J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, with its steady, mercurial tread surrounded by high trumpet filigree. An arrangement of Percy Grainger’s wind band favorite Lincolnshire Posy is carried out with supreme affection. And the CSO percussion joins in for this and for the opening and closing numbers, Walton’s Crown Imperial march and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, respectively.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live
CSO Resound
Available at Arkivmusic.com