Reviewed by Lee Shepherd
Though it was blustery and bitterly cold outside last Sunday (Feb. 15), the “Brilliant Brass” concert by the Binghamton Philharmonic Brass Quintet warmed the hearts of everyone in downtown Binghamton’s United Presbyterian Church. The program ranged from hot jazz to heraldic Renaissance fanfares fit for a king or queen, demonstrating the best a brass quintet repertoire has to offer.
The ensemble is composed of principal players in the BSO: trumpeters Benjamin Aldridge and Frank Campos, tuba player Adam Peck, French hornist Alex Shuhan and trombonist Donald Robertson.
They began with three dances by Renaissance composer Tylman Susato, who popularized and published the tunes of his era. One could imagine a royal procession down the aisles, as the musicians offered their sonorous and sprightly musical tribute.
“Contrapunctus IV” from Bach’s Art of the Fugue filled the room with gorgeous and intricate sound, right up to the very high rafters. Definitely goosebump-inducing.
Shuhan took to the piano to accompany the brass players in his lovely arrangements of Debussy’s Les Cloches (“The bells”) and Romance.
The very short first half finished with a surprise from a relatively unknown composer, Victor Ewald, a St. Petersburg-born composer, who lived from 1860 to1935. Ewald’s three-movement quintet, discovered among his manuscripts after his death, sounded very classical but with definite Slavic overtones. Thank goodness it wasn’t lost, because it’s a great piece of music.
After the audience enjoyed coffee and cookies in the lobby, the quintet finished the afternoon with the light-hearted and humorous Scherzo by contemporary composer John Cheetham and two medleys, one from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, the second of George M. Cohan’s patriotic and popular tunes. The quintet’s sense of fun in these last two works was infectious. The five men obviously take great joy in playing together and pleasing audiences. Two “earworms” rang in my head hours after the concert: “I’ve got plenty of nuttin” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
The quintet’s encore, Charles Mingus’s Duke Ellington’s Sounds of Love, was the perfect capper for the concert, a jazzy, sexy and smooth close-harmony piece that showed off the players’ blended and beautiful brass tone.
If you attend any future Binghamton Philharmonic chamber concerts, all being staged at United Presbyterian Church, 42 Chenango St., Binghamton, I would recommend sitting in the balcony. Not only are the seats more comfortable than the downstairs pews, but they also afford a better line of sight and acoustics. And, on a day with minus zero temperatures and minimal heat in the hall, it’s warmer up there too.