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Classical Thu Jun 07 2012

Review: Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet @ St. James Cathedral 6/5/12

by Elliot Mandel

Standing at the back of the nave of St. James Cathedral, Chicago Symphony Orchestra trumpeters Christopher Martin and Tage Larsen heralded a new season of Rush Hour concerts Tuesday evening, belting out Jean-Baptiste Lully's March Royale with pinpoint articulation and bell-like incantation. Sitting once again under J. Neville Stent's stenciled patterns of the cathedral's Arts-and-Crafts ceiling, one is reminded just how good a deal this is: 30 minutes of free music from some of the best musicians in town.

Rush Hour Concerts at St. James Cathedral, photo by Colin Knapp courtesy of Rush Hour Concerts.jpeg
Photo by Colin Knapp/Rush Hour Concerts

Martin and Larsen joined their CSO colleagues — hornist David Griffin, trombonist Michael Mulcahy, and tubist Gene Pokorny — onstage to complete the brass quintet for J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in C Major. Bach's knack for making any instrument sound like an organ was easily apparent as the quintet's volume rose with each fugal riff. The cathedral worked against the low brass, the live acoustics muddling Pokorny's solo passages; but with the entire ensemble, the high ceiling amplified the sound which was likely to be heard by passersby outside.

CSO Brass Quintet (2).jpeg
Photo by Colin Knapp/Rush Hour Concerts

Two contemporary works followed — the first, James Stephenson's Celestial Suite (2011), seemed aptly chosen given the Venus Transit happening at nearly the same time. The group passed around rapid-fire staccato passages before sending up a triumphant ending.

In Kerry Turner's The Casbah of Tetouan (1990), the quintet showed the softer side of a brass ensemble with a subdued opening and frequent use of mutes. Mulcahy and Pokorny joined in a particularly enjoyable oom-pah duet; later, Larsen whistled bird songs before Griffin's gusto horn calls burst forth in an overall quirky and engaging piece.

The quintet obliged the ovation with an arrangement from Aaron Copland's Our Town, creating a velvety sheen of even and unified changes. As good as these five players are from the back of the orchestra, the thirty-minute recital format allowed audiences to revel in a focused brass sound.

About the author: Elliot Mandel writes a monthly classical music column for Gapers Block: Transmission. Catch up on what's going on this month in Chicago.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


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