Brass Quintet concert recalls Venetian pomp, pageantry


I often think of the places I'd like to have in music history.

Imagine attending services at St. Thomas of Leipzig, with the great Bach himself pounding out on of his own fugues on the chapel organ.

Or to have been in the audience as Felix Mendelssohn resurrected Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" at its first Leipzig performance since the composer's death some 80 years earlier.

The-premier of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony must have been an unbelievably emotional affair as well. But one musical site I keep returning to over and over in my mind is St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice right around 1600.

The Venetians understood pomp and pageantry as no one else in Europe, and the vast expanse of St. Mark's was often the stage on which these spectacular ceremonies were played out.

The pageantry of church and state demands music of similar magnitude.

It is no coincidence then that Venice was home to the antiphonal musical style; an organ keyboard at full throttle augmenting divided choirs of singers and/or instruments, all of which filled the cathedral with a great wash of brilliant sounds that must have raised the Byzantine roof of St. Mark's with amazing regularity.

Often, those instruments were brass, which explains why the Annapolis Brass Quintet has an absorbing interest in the music of antiphonal masters such as Venice's own Giovanni Gabreili (1551-1612).

St. Anne's Church in Annapolis is a far cry from St. Mark's. But, with a little imagination, concertgoers could have tapped into that Venetian pomp and pageantry Sunday evening as the Annapolis Brass Quintet and organist Donald Sutherland presented concert that created some of that same excitement.

Donald Sutherland is one of the best-known organists of our area. He serves as director of music at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church and is in much demand as a recitalist both in America and abroad.

Sutherland and the ABQ made a great team and their concert was one of the best of recent ABQ memory.

Canzoni by Giovanni Gabrieli and one of his northern European counterparts, Samuel Scheidt, were delivered enthusiastically with all the ruffles and flourishes one could ask for.

Madrigals by Thomas Weelkes and a pair of Sonatas by Antonio Bertal1 also showed the quintet at its best.

The modem Idiom was given its due with the world premiere of "The Wall." an attractively rhythmic piece for brass and organ composed by Michael Brown, a graduate student at the Peabody Conservatory. Brown shows a real sense of his instruments; their colors, weights and timbres. "The Wall" is an accessible, energetic work that deserves repeated hearings.

Perhaps the best performance of the evening was bestowed on David Ashley White's "Tiptych." Needless to say, it was well played, but the Coplandesque "Hymn" of the last movement seemed to bring out a special commitment from the players that made the, performance definitive.

Sutherland also provided a Prelude and Fugue by Camille Saint-Saens and the Chorale Prelude "Er ist das Heil uns Kommen her" of J. S. Bach.

He was then joined by the quintet in a somewhat clunky account of Bach's immortal "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring." Ironically, the program's best-known work was the only one that didn't quite gel.

The inclusion of Bach on the program provided an opportunity for a pre-birthday tip of the cap in the great composer's direction. He turns 306 on March 21.

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