"Baroque Music for Brass with Organ"
Works of Purcell, Bach, Telemann, Handel, Campra, Pachelbel, Albinoni, Clarke and Charpentier.
Empire Brass Quintet with William Kuhlman, organist
TELARC SACD 60614 TT: 54:33 (5.l channel)

GETTY: Joan and the Bells. PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet Suite No. 2
Lisa Delan, soprano; Vladimir Chernov, baritone; Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, Stockholm; Russian National Orch/Alexander Vedernikov, cond.
PENTATONE PTC 5186 017 TT: 51:00 (5 channel)

Telarc's CD is just as advertised, a program of baroque music in arrangements for organ and brass. Works of Purcell (music from Abdelazer, King Arthur and The Married Beau), Telemann (a concerto after a trio sonata, a movement from an oboe concerto), Bach (a fantasie and A Mighty Fortress is Our God), Fantasias by Pachelbel and Albinoni, Clarke (Trumpet Voluntary, The Prince of Denmark's March) and an excerpt from Marc-Antione Charpentier's Te Deum. The program was recorded live at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Sept. 21, 2002. The warm resonance of the hall has been richly captured by the recording team headed by producer Robert Woods. There are no audience sounds. There's little separation between Empire Brass and the organ; it sounds as if the brass instruments were part of the organ. With surround sound there could have been more distance between the instruments, but what is here is highly effective. There are some deep organ pedals that will delight audiophiles. The only negative to this disk is its limited playing time.

Pentatone's CD also was recorded live, October 7, 2002 at the Maison de la Culture de Bourges in France. The opening work is the premiere (and doubtless only) recording of a 21-minute cantata for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra called Joan and the Bells based on Joan of Arc's final days. There are three sections: Judgment, in which the Bishop Cauchon and chorus of people condemn Joan for heresy; Joan in Her Chamber, as she recalls happier days; and The Square at Rouen as she is executed to the approving shouts of the crowd, the scene ending with a clamorous outburst of the bells that had brought her visions in the past—and had been silenced until her death. The composer is Gordon Getty, son of the multi-millionaire, whose works include many songs and chamber music; the last Schwann/Opus lists only one recording of his music, a song cycle called The White Election. Joan and the Bells is an odd work—it is not "modern" in any sense, and just begins with no orchestral prelude or introduction. Joan's part is written for a high voice but the text and notes seem to be unrelated. She doesn't appear at all in the final scene as she is burned at the stake, which seems strange—what a missed opportunity for vocal/orchestral drama! The performance is good although Vladimir Chernov has more than a trace of wobble in his singing. Lisa Delan copes admirably with her difficult part and the chorus and orchestra are fine. I expected better bells at the end; these are all high bells with none of those magnificent deep tolling bells heard in Boris Godunov. There is little resonance in the recording and everything is in front, with rear speakers providing limited ambience. How effective it would have been to have the concluding bells come mostly from the rear! Also on this SACD, from the same concert, we have the second suite from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet, well played and better recorded with more bass. But total playing time is only 51:00, not much for any CD. Joan and the Bells is sung in English; the compete text is included in the CD booklet; if you'd like German and French translations you'll have to get them online (www.pentatonemusic.com).

R.E.B. (July 2003)