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CD review: Onyx Brass

Festmusik: A Legacy
Conductor: John Wilson
Chandos Recordings: CDCHSA 5284



A narrative line linking family fortune, friendship and forensic study provide the touchstones on which this outstanding recording is built.

The substantive sleeve notes of David Gordon-Shute and Stephen Johnson provide a trove of information to place each of the seven works in context – and the stories, given what seem to be gossamer threads of musical coincidence, a tensile strength of powerful immediacy and relevance, reinforced by the superb performances of those involved.

Connective chain

The connective chain is forged by musical personality; Strauss, Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Rubinstein, Franz and full circle to Strauss again; the common link the mysteriously heartfelt cache of letters and paperwork left by a very particular, yet benevolent Great-uncle to his impressionable nephew (and it is a remarkable story).    

The connective chain is forged by musical personality; Strauss, Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Rubinstein, Franz and full circle to Strauss again;

With this in mind the music takes on a moving resonance - directed with lucid appreciation by John Wilson, performed with subtly defined degrees of burnished texture and chiaroscuro light and shade by the combined talents of some of the UKs finest brass players.   

The familiar strains of ‘Festmusick der Stadt Wien’, written by Strauss in the embryonic years of what was to become an obliquely complex relationship with Nazi hierarchy, now has a darker hue of meaning.

Feeling of loss

In contrast Schumann’s ‘Impromptus uber ein Thema von Clara Wiek’  sounds like a playful series of passionate billet-doux.

It mirrors the corresponding love of Heinz and his beloved wife, Hilde to whom the CD is dedicated, whilst the rich tonality of Brahms’ ‘Ich Schwing’ mein Horn ins Jammertal’  (‘I blow my horn in the vale of sorrow’), lingers with a melancholic feeling of loss.

The musical narrative closes as it began - with brilliance imbuing its resolve. 

The close homophonic choral structures of Mendelssohn’s ‘Die Fruen die Sanger’  (‘The Women and the Singers’) frame a hunting song of tender romanticism, as do the cultured meanderings of Rubinstein’s Chopinesque ‘Nocturne’  - beautifully liquid to the touch.

The budding glimpses of spring in Robert Franz’s ‘Fruhlingsblick’  are full of optimism - a slender memory of youth. 

Crowning glory

The crowning glory though is early choral Strauss. 

‘Zwei Gesange’  (‘Two Songs’) is superbly orchestrated (as are all the works on the release); ‘Der Abend’  (‘The Evening’) providing a longing counterbalance to the grief infused expression of the ‘Hymne’  (‘Hymn’) – packed to the rafters with expanded lineal phrases and rich harmonic progressions.  

The musical narrative closes as it began - with brilliance imbuing its resolve. 

Iwan Fox


To purchase: https://onyxbrass.co.uk/festmusik-a-legacy/

Play list:

1. Festmusik der Stadt Wien (Richard Strauss)
2-13. Zwei Gesänge Op.34 (Richard Strauss arr. Dave Gordon-Shute & Matt Smith)
14. Impromptus on a Theme by Clara Wieck Op.5 (Robert Schumann arr. Amos Miller & Tim Jackson)
15. Die Frauen und die Sänger (Felix Mendelssohn arr. Dave Gordon-Shute)
16. Ich Schwing mein’ Horn ins Jammertal (Johannes Brahms arr. Dave Gordon-Shute)
17. Nocturne Op.71 (Anton Rubinstein arr. Dave Gordon-Shute)
18-19. Frühlingsblick Op.52 (Robert Franz arr. Niall Keatley)

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