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MUSIC REVIEW : Westwind Brass Blows Well With a Populist Bent

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

No one ever said chamber music must be serious to justify its performance. It’s just that the repertory is largely defined by such intellectually towering monuments as the late Beethoven string quartets, the Brahms piano quartets or Bartok’s epic quartet cycle.

The brass quartet, because of its late emergence onto the chamber music scene, enjoys no musical patrimony from Beethoven or Brahms. Some brass ensembles, however, lard their programs with transcriptions of J. S. Bach fugues and every canzona Giovanni Gabrieli ever wrote as compensation.

Westwind Brass does not attempt to pass itself off as a high-brow operation. Though the San Diego ensemble is highly disciplined and well-tuned, it is more likely to play music from the concert band repertory than a scholarly Bach fugue. Westwind’s Sunday afternoon concert at the San Diego Museum of Art’s Copley Auditorium displayed that populist bent.

Notable among the offerings was Ralph Vaughn Williams’ English Folk Song Suite, a classic concert band number served up in a crisp arrangement by the group’s first trumpet, David Sabon. Westwind’s tight ensemble, precise unisons and fleet tempos made the suite’s outer movements sparkle, but the slow movement meandered a bit. Sabon and second-trumpet Michael Walk traded assertive but lyrical solos.

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(Other members of Westwind Brass are Barry Toombs, horn, Ronald Robinson, trombone, and Ross Kallen, tuba. Kallen, a recent and welcome addition to the ensemble, undergirds the group with his sophisticated, precisely focused playing.)

Opening the program was Joseph Jenkins’ American Overture, another band piece. This one, unfortunately, underscored the shallow enthusiasm that is the down side of this type of music. What works at a football pep rally may not readily transfer to the concert hall.

Three movements from Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker,” in an idiomatic transcription by San Diego Symphony trumpeter John Wilds, made the program’s second half soar. Sabon and Walk heralded the fanfares of the March Miniature with coy assurance, and the Russian “Trepak” danced exuberantly.

Among the seasonal carol arrangements and medleys on the program, “The Huron Christmas Carol,” based on a haunting native American tune, stood out for its unaffected, primeval aura.

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An arrangement of a Corelli Violin Sonata sounded slightly academic, and Giovanni Gabrieli’s “Canzona per Sonare” No. 4 was played without a clear sense of direction or clear phrasing. But the good humor of “Sleigh Ride,” including Walk’s farewell whinny into his trumpet, sent the audience home with a smile.


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