What mysterious ailment afflicts so many brass groups, turning the players from straight musicians into would-be comedians?
Take the Chicago Chamber Brass quintet, which played Sunday in the lobby of the Wiltern Theatre as part of the "Music in Historic Sites" series. The players--William Camp and Paul Johnson, trumpets; Robert Lauver, French horn; Michael Warny, trombone; Richard Frazier, tuba--have lots going for them: serious musicianship, secure technique and interesting repertory.
But sure enough, group founder Frazier couldn't resist informal introductory chatter plus a wry aside or two to the audience in the middle of a piece. After playing a bright, confident account of Marcello's "The Heavens Are Telling" from the upper reaches of the resonant, ornate Art Deco lobby, for instance, Frazier introduced the Overture to Rossini's "Barber of Seville" as "the Bugs Bunny Song."
The tour de force in a program that also included music by Gershwin, Sousa and Ingolf Dahl was a transcription of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," played straight and complete.
Given the striking shifts in timbre in the arrangement, one heard interesting new aspects of the music, whether in fragmented lines, reversals of prominent and accompanying parts or heightening of middle harmonies.
So for once, Schmuyle, assigned to trumpet, emerged triumphant in his argument with Samuel Goldenberg, played by muddier bass instruments. Similarly, striking antiphonal effects were heard in the scale runs divided between the trumpets in "The Great Gate at Kiev." Still, such sections as "Gnomes" seemed ill-suited for the instruments, and "The Hut of Baba Yaga" opened without impact.
For an encore, the quintet gave a rousing Dixieland classic: Pollack's "That's a-Plenty."