It isn't your ordinary brass quintet that mixes Handel with Dixieland, sometimes combining the two (as in their encore, a "Saints Come Marchin' In" version of the "Hallelujah" Chorus). It isn't your ordinary brass quintet that tells you the reason Vivaldi's Concerto in C is for two trumpets is that it was "written years ago, when the unions were more powerful." And it isn't your ordinary brass quintet that, in addition to their black tuxes and white shoes, dons tutus for "A Tribute to the Ballet" that has them leaping and pirouetting onstage like refugees from the Disney "Dance of the Hours" (here punctuated with the cry of "Camp Granada!").
But then obviously the Canadian Brass isn't your ordinary brass quintet.Sometimes I wish they were. Sometimes I wish the clowning would take a back seat to the artistry, something that doesn't always happen even in their Bach and Mozart (e.g., "At the end of his life Mozart was dying . . ."). And sometimes I wish that effortless blend were accompanied by the kind of dead-on accuracy that only trumpeter Ronald Romm consistently provided. Which is to say only now and again do some of these players hit a note right on the button.
But when that happens, as it did from time to time on their concert Monday at Weber State College, they are more than up to the competition.
I know of no one, for example, with a more beautiful sound. Not only is it exquisitely balanced; it is also never coarse or ostentatious, even when they let 'er rip, as in the finale of the Vivaldi concerto (here on piccolo trumpets).
Nor do they neglect the music's emotional side. Thus, even assigned to the tuba, Porgy's solo in "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" conveyed genuine poignancy, contrasting nicely with the overall zest of the rest of this Gershwin sequence.
But it is the zest I suspect most people will remember, and it plainly found an appreciative audience Monday in the Austad Auditorium. From the rapid high-trumpet figurations of Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca" (from the K. 331 Piano Sonata) to the Basin-Street stylings of "Amazing Grace," with its blues cornet, virtually every selection drew whistles of appreciation and applause. As did much of the commentary.
That ran the gamut from trombonist Eugene Watts' comparatively straight introduction to Vivaldi to tuba player Charles Daellenbach's music-appreciation parody on Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor (in which he called attention to not only the "very fast black notes" but the all-important tuba line). In addition to which the ballet spoof had the audience falling down almost as often as the players.
At the same time many of the insights were real, for instance Daellenbach's contention that it was the movie "Amadeus" that "made Mozart famous," or the wry observation that Gershwin lacked the proper perspective on his music (much of which came under attack in his day), "still being alive."
In short, these artists do communicate, and that was as true of their Gabrieli (greatly enhanced by their placing themselves around the auditorium to bring out the antiphonal effects) and their Barber (here the Adagio not for Strings) as their "Beal Street Blues."
Not only is it all music; it's all great music. And anyone who can remind us of that deserves the adjective "extraordinary." And a hearty cheer.