The Aspen Times

The American Brass Quintet has been performing at this festival for more than 40 years, bass trombonist John D. Rojak noted Tuesday evening in one introduction. Tuesday’s program made a case for being the best. The quintet’s clear sound and precise articulation let the music speak with big-time personality. And the works on the program brought plenty of their own charisma. 

Among the highlights were the two newest — a world premiere and a 2014 piece. Premieres and new pieces are something of a regular occurrence in the quintet’s concerts here. “Shine, for Brass Quintet,” by Robert Paterson, who mentioned in his introduction that he was a student composer here 16 years ago, challenged the members of the quintet with difficult solo and ensemble passages, all in service of colorful music that made joyful use of everything brass instruments can do. Mutes, glissandos and brief fanfares all played roles in four very different movements. The first, — emphasized staccato playing — all brightness, and the second cast the brass as chorale singers — all interweaving lines. The third, a scherzo, explored contrasts between open and muted sounds, and the finale raced hell-bent for brilliance, and achieved it. 

“Fata Morgana,” by Nina C. Young, who wrote it last summer at Tanglewood, ended the concert with a stage populated by two full brass quintets, five extra French horns and a battery of percussion led by Jonathan Haas providing shimmering phrases on vibraphones, clashes on tam-tams and powerful use of bass drums. The 10-minute tone poem explores the effects of seagoing optical illusions, which can magical or disastrous. Never let it be said that a woman can’t write muscular, powerful music. This one nearly took the roof off with its intensity. 

Other highlights included Lutoslawski’s cheeky and pungent little Mini Overture and two of Raymond Mase’s always eloquent adaptations of early music. A collection of offbeat 16th-century canons held more interest than a pleasant group of Elizabethan Consort Music, all of it played with refinement and detail.

, Harvey Steiman
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