Christmas with the Serpent

Hark, Shepherds, Hark, The Madding Crowd, 2007; The Madding Crowd # TMC-002-CD. Obtained from the group’s website, (you may also email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

The Madding Crowd is an English group that specializes in the research and performance of church and country music from Georgian times. Their performance focus is on authenticity, and as such their music embodies an immediacy and earthiness that takes the listener back in time. The sound has a bumptious, rural quality that specifically does not recall performances of polished professionals. In this case, this quality is a good thing.

This CD is a selection from the group’s Christmas repertoire. Historically, the holidays presented such groups a fine opportunity to make music in the church, in West Gallery tradition, and to make the rounds of the village, visiting every cottage to tell the good news in carols. Many of the selections recorded here are taken from an undated manuscript found by the group in a used bookshop, and their research has placed its contents in the vicinity of 1837 Dorset, and many of the carols found within are not known elsewhere.

The selections include "We Singers Make Bold" with its West Country tune, "Hark the Glad Sound" (ca. 1800), "Awake Ye Heavenly Choirs and Sing" (early 19th C), "The Cornish Seraphic Minstrels," "Great Was the Joy Displayed Abroad," the Charles Burney version of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Come Let Us All With Heart and Voice," "O May We All Rejoice," which at times seems almost Handelian, the mid-18th-century "Anthem for the Nativity St. Luke Chapter 2," "Angels From the Realms of Glory" in its Thomas Merritt setting, "Anthem for the Nativity," "When Jordan Hush’d His Waters Still" (ambitious for West Gallery), "Shepherds Rejoice," the lilting 6/8 "A Saviour Sinner," "Glad Tidings, Bright Angels," with its opening "symphony," the titular "Hark Shepherds Hark," "Arise and Hail," the tricky "Me Think I Hear a Soft Still Voice," the Victorian carol "Be Merry All," "Hark Those Hallelujahs Pealing," which spans from the Nativity to the Passion and Second Coming, and finally "While Shepherds Watch’d," here with a different tune setting for every verse, none of which are familiar today.

The Madding Crowd’s instrumental accompaniment consists of fiddles, cello, flute, oboe, clarinet and serpent. From an early brass standpoint, this album’s offering is limited to the participation of the serpent, played here quite capably by Peter Hackston. Happily, this proves to be a lot of serpent, often in prominent lines and sometimes taking the melody. I recommend this recording on the strength of its offbeat, authentic sound, unusual collection of carols, and strong serpent presence.

--Paul Schmidt

Pioneering Ophicleide CD

Back from Oblivion; Nick Byrne, Ophicleide; David Miller, Piano. Melba Recordings MR 301111 Australia, Recorded at the Australian National Academy of Music (6-8 December 2006)

CD Contents:
Dagnelies: Fantasie Variée
Proctor: Adagio from Ophecleide Concerto
Demersseman: Introduction et Polonaise
Elgar: Romance
Kummer: Variations for Ophecleide
Rachmaninov: Vocalise
Handel: Oh Ruddier than the Cherry
Grieg: Ich Liebe Dich
Klosé: Air Varié
Piazzola: Oblivion

The "rare" Ophicleide is enjoying a renaissance. This is certainly proven by the release of Nick Byrne's wonderful CD. Nota bene: "From Oblivion" is the first commercially released solo recording ever made of this curious and evolutionary instrument! While it seems that the ophecleide could be considered an ancestor of the modern-day tuba, it actually was invented around 1817. So the ophecleide actually is more of kissing cousin to the tuba (Moritz' first tuba was patented in 1835, so was first constructed some years before). Or maybe ugly stepsister. It certainly looks "ancestral" as related to a tuba, appearing to echo the relationship between the keyed bugle and the valved cornet. Because the valved low brass instruments eventually proved to be a better design, many opheclides were soon relegated to storage closets -- except in the hands of only the most ardent fans and virtuosi. Its wider usage was only for a couple decades after 1820, and so maybe the real ophicleide "golden age" is happening right now, when we have an international community of ophicleidists (?), including several modern day virtuosi, such a Nick Byrne. Many of the original 19th-century instruments have been refurbished into playing condition, and some are even for sale in certain Parisian shops. There also are artisans are building new ones.

So, it is authentic for us to be hearing 19th-century romantic music played on this instrument. It is an object from the early part of that era and it played a part in initiating composers, conductors, and audiences to the possibility of a bass brass instrument with facility. Nick notes on his fine website: "Performers, such as English Virtuoso Samuel Hughes and the Royal Italian Opera's (Covent Garden) J.H. Guilmartin, continued to perform on the instrument late into the 1890's."

The name is derived from the Greek "ophis" (meaning serpent) and "kleis" (to cover). Having between 9 and 11 keys, and in a variety of sizes, from the alto (quinticlave) pitched in E-flat or F, to the contrabasses in E-flat or C, "ophicleide" can be considered a family of instruments.

If the ophicleide is a "period" instrument, that period embraces orchestral works of Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Italian opera composers, and others. As a chamber instrument or military band instrument, it seems to have made brass chamber music more possible for the first time since sackbuts and cornettos were shelved. Both the orchestral works and the smaller ensembles are represented by some good examples in the CD catalogs. See Nick’s website (address below) for a very complete ophicleide discography.

Back from Oblivion is a first-class production, with gorgeous recording acoustics, and stylish and masterful playing by both Nick Byrne and pianist David Miller. The CD was produced with the support of the Melba Foundation, Australia Council, and arts agencies of the Australian government, allowing for a deluxe product in every respect. It is a pleasurable listening experience and the liner notes are excellent. His website, is the primary destination for learning more about this instrument and its tradition. Nick plays on an 1830 Finke ophicleide in C, and an 1875 C model by Halévy, both, by the measure of this recording, perfectly restored.

The CD is not available on, but Nick suggests in the U.S. and or in the U.K. and Europe. In Australasia, try This is one CD to own and enjoy repeatedly. The first modern solo recording of the ophicleide didn't have to be this superb. We'll have to throw all our ophicleide jokes out.

--- Paul Niemisto

Buxtehude for Winds

Buxtehude & Co.; Caecilia-Concert; Fiona Russell, cornetto/cornettino; Adam Woolf, tenor trombone; Wouter Verschuren, dulcian; Kathryn Cok, harpsichord/organ; Annabelle Ferdinand, violin. Challenge Records CC72179. Info: Recorded November 2006.

Caecilia-Concert’s latest CD presents a program of 9 sonatas, a chaconne, and an aria by Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707) and four of his illustrious contemporaries of the North German school: Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725); Matthias Weckmann (1619-1674); Dietrich Becker (1623-1671); and Johann Theile (1646-1724). The program represents a musical view of the 17th-century North German collegia musica and the Abendmusiken, which were special concerts presented for merchants, lawyers, and other successful members of society. Inherently secular in nature, this repertoire is highly virtuosic and presents many demands upon the performers. One such interesting challenge, as pointed out in the informative CD booklet, is the use of A# and Bb in the same piece representing two different pitches in the historic temperament. Members of this ensemble ably meet those challenges and more. Their expressive musical lines are perhaps slightly less over-the-top than some cornett and sackbut ensembles, and to my mind, this approach is more enjoyable. The fast-fingers, strong chops, flexible playing aspect of technique is at the top of the game. The performance is flawless. Fiona Russell, perhaps the finest cornett player of her generation, plays a John McCann treble cornett and a cornettino by Serge Delmas. Adam Woolf plays a tenor trombone by Ewald Meinl modeled after an original by Drewelwecz. For a glimpse into the sound-world of 17th-century North German instrumental music one couldn’t do better than this excellent recording.
--- Jeffrey Nussbaum

HMSC 12 Days of Christmas

Music for The Twelve Days of Christmas and The Nativity; His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, 2007; Jeremy West, cornett and bagpipes; Jamie Savan, cornett; Adam Woolf, Abigail Newman, and Stephen Saunders sackbuts; Gary Cooper, organ, virginal, and harpsichord. SFZ Music # SFZ0307. Obtained from the group’s website,

Just in time to celebrate its 25th year of existence, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts has released a new CD album of music for the Christmas season, titled Music for The Twelve Days of Christmas and The Nativity. This group of two cornetts, three sackbuts, and chamber organ often joins with other musicians; in this case they have added Stephen Henderson on percussion, Keith McGowan on bagpipes and recorder, and soprano Faye Newton.

Included here are selections in many musical styles, all originally used as part of the European Christmas season from the 12th through 17th centuries. The album begins with 10 tracks relating to the Nativity, followed by another 13 tracks of what the group calls its “whistle stop tour” of each of the 12 days of Christmas.

In the Nativity section, the first track is Anthony Holborne’s galliard As It Fell On a Holie Eve, followed by the visit of the angel to the Virgin Mary as illustrated by the sung Angelus ad Virginem and Jacob Obrecht’s Ave Maria Stella. The angel appears to the shepherds accompanied by an instrumental medley comprised of Holborne’s The Night Watch and Dowland’s A Shepherd in Shade, after which Newton sings one setting of Von Himmel Hoch, with the brass returning the favor with two more settings by Eccard and Schein. The birth pageant begins with Victoria’s Alma Redemptoris Mater à 5 plus soprano and Walther’s setting of Joseph lieber, Joseph mein. There follows a medley of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen in its version by Praetorius, the Melchior Velpius Canon à 4, and the traditional Coventry Carol. The set concludes with Victoria’s Quem vidistis pastores à 6 describing the arrival of the shepherds.

Reaching Christmastide, the selections follow the subjects of the titular song’s twelve gifts. Thomas Ravenscroft’s Hawking for the Partridge is an obvious choice, as is Morley’s Fantasia à 2 La Tortorella if you know that ‘tortorella’ is a little turtle dove. In the same vein the three French hens appear as ‘t Han en ‘t Henne Gekray à 3 and Le Ballet des Cocqs by Praetorius, and four calling birds are in the guise of Symphonia à 4 Supra la Cuc Cuc by Nicolaus a Kempis. At this point one can imagine a mental block worthy of Major General Stanley searching for a difficult rhyme as the group cogitates about a song to go with five gold rings …”Aha! I have it”… and a five-part canon (ahem, ‘round’) ushers forth in the form of Ravenscroft’s Two Rounds in Five Parts. Tripping along comes Lasso’s “Gyri gyri gaga gans” in Audite Nova, which at least has something to do with geese. At this point anyone having breath in them will see Gibbons's The Silver Swan coming a mile away, but sneaking in behind it is the unexpected Suono del Ballo de Cigni by Giacomo Spiardo. John Playford helpfully provides The Milke-maid’s Life and The Milkmaid’s Bob, but one has to perhaps play the track eight times to get the whole effect. Nine ladies dancing justifies Richard Allison’s The Lady Frances Sidney’s Almayne, and one good rationalization deserves another, so Farnaby’s The Lord Souches Maske follows; the energetic character of this piece along with the mirth inducing sound of the rhythmic rommel pot combine to affect some real leaping (but I’m not kidding, listen as the group cracks up at the end of this track…that’s one hilarious friction drum line). Enter the guest bagpiper to follow Morley’s Those That Want To My Pipes Sound with a suitable traditional Welsh folk tune Nos Galan (which provided the melody of today’s favorite "Deck the Hall With Boughs of Holly"), segueing into the closing Bransle l’Officiel of Thoinot Arbeau (which gave us "Ding Dong Merrily on High"), performed here with lots of percussion, although there are not 12 of them drumming.

This is a fine, and fun, addition to the early brass recording canon. The playing is expert and musical, varying from tear-inducing to energetic, and Faye Newton has a nice, clear, early-music type of voice which both blends with the brass, yet rises above them when needed. Of the group’s nearly 20 albums, this has quickly become one of my favorites.

--Paul Schmidt

Civil War Brass

Better Than Rations or Medicine. The Federal City Brass Band, dir. Jari Villanueva. Privately produced by JV Music.
Information: 124 Maiden Choice Lane, Baltimore, MD 21228; Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Web: Recorded April 21-23, 2005.

Eb cornet - R. L. Doucette, Don Johnson, Jeff Stockham
Bb cornet - Paul DeLuca, Jeb Hague
Eb alto - Ronald Friedman, J. V. Rogers
Bb tenor - Richard Bergren, Steve Gasiororowski, Andrew Gelfert
Bb baritone - Jared Denhard
Eb bass - John Bieniarz, Mark Elrod
Percussion - Garmen L. Bowers, Jr., Ted Dietz
Vocals - Heather Faust

Those who attended the 2005 HBS Early Brass Festival in Northfield, MN will certainly remember the wonderful performances of the Federal City Brass Band. They will also surely remember the blazing 100-degree days and watching the band members swelter in their authentic gray jean cloth uniforms of the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band as they staged a "battle of the bands" with the 1st Brigade Band of Wisconsin. Watching those folks sweat buckets gave me cause to ask band member Mark Elrod why they don't get some lightweight cotton or synthetic band uniforms. Mark shook his head at my obviously naïve remark and set me straight. "You don't understand. In our various military recreation performances we play for the stitch counter." Stitch counters??!! What in the world are they? Mark continued to educate me and explained that these there people who could tell at a distance of 10 paces whether your uniform contained the right amount of stitches per square inch, thereby achieving the status of being sufficiently "authentic." This seemed to me to take the "A" word a bit too far but that is the degree in which this fine ensemble takes up the challenge of authentic performance practice, sweat and all!

This present recording includes, among other items, music from the band books of the 26th North Carolina Regimental Band. Based on the existing repertoire and surviving documentation this band, which served the Confederate Army from 1862 until days before Lee's surrender at the end of the Civil War, the band must have been one spectacular musical outfit. The musicians were all Moravians from Salem, NC where the surviving books of the band are now housed. This recording includes music from those books along other music of the period. Jari Villanueva has also tastefully edited music that is known to have been performed by Civil War bands but now only survives in piano scores.

Claudio Grafulla (1810-1880) is represented twice on this program with George Hart's Quickstep and Captain Shepherd's Quickstep. The first piece contains a medley of tunes by Stephen Foster and the second is a flashy tour-de-force. Villanueva created a wonderful arrangement of Arthur Kennedy's Commencement Waltz, a lovely piece that captures the graceful and simple elegance of the music of this period. The Maryland Guard Galop gives the musicians a chance to demonstrate their fast and amazingly clean double tonguing. Arrangements of opera arias and choruses was an important part of brass band repertoire and the recording includes a glorious arrangement commissioned by General Kirkland for the 26th NC Regimental Band, working in many of Verdi's most famous tunes.

All instruments used on this CD (with the single exception of a drum) are originals dating to the mid 19th century, and the playing is uniformly fine. There are 21 short dance selections including quicksteps, waltzes, gallops, quadrilles, and polkas. Most of the works are typical of the period and genre, which is to say, ensemble music that is high on lyricism as well as fast flashy virtuosity. Don Johnson and Jeff Stockham deserve special note for their florid and beautiful playing but all the musicians perform wonderfully creating a solid sense of ensemble. All of the pieces, and indeed much of this repertoire, have several common qualities. There is a combination of exciting virtuoso writing with a lyrical aspect that almost magically conjures a sense of, for want of a better phrase, a more innocent time. The Federal City's latest CD is a fine example of this repertoire. Jari Villanueva and these fine musicians deserve great praise.

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum

Bollinger Cornetto Recordings

La Carioletta: auf europäischen Wandelpfaden; Capella Caesarea; self-produced.
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recorded August 6-9, 2005

La Giorgina: Canzonen und Sonaten aus dem Frühbarock für Zink und Orgel; Hans-Jakob Bollinger, cornett, Christiane Lux, Organ; Swiss Pan SP51721
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recorded July 3-6, 2005

Two new discs recorded a month apart featuring the cornetto plying of Hans-Jakob Bollinger offer a wide variety of interesting repertoire. He is a member of the ensemble Capella Caesarea and combines his efforts with Peter Stelzl, sackbut, Rachel Harris, violin, Jennifer Harris, dulcian, Andrea C. Baur, chitarrone, and Evelyn Laub, positive organ. The majority of the music is northern European. Some of the composers represented are Schmelzer, Grabbe, Kindeman, Froberger, and Buchner. A most interesting work is the Symphonia I à 4 of Nikolaus à Kempis (1600-1676), which features each member well and has several varied sections. Unfortuantely the liner notes are brief, all in German, and do not discuss the composers or cite sources. Hans-Jakob reports by e-mail that Kempis was an organist from Brussels and the father of Joannes Florentius and Thomas. Little more is known.

On this disc Bollinger plays cornettino (made by Henri Gohin) on the Sonata à 4 of Matthias Weckmann. He plays cornetto muto (made by Christoph Schuler) on the Canzon "La Sincopata". The remainder of the music is performed on an instrument made by John McCann. The sackbut played by Peter Stelzl is the Drewelwecz model made by Ewald Meinl. All are at A=440.

The other disc, La Giorgina, is for cornetto and organ. The organist is Christine Lux. The instruments on this disc are remarkable. The organ is in meantone and located in the church of the Modanna de la Campagna, Valtellina, in northern Italy. It was built in 1518 by Marco Antonio Bizzari, further developed in 1589 by the Antegnati family, and recently restored by Marco Fratti. There is more. It is at A=453. Our soloist engaged Andreas Schoni of Berne to build a cornetto at A=453 and the results are quite pleasing. Bollinger is a sensitive player who demonstrates acrobatic dexterity on two sonatas by Fontana as well as clever and graceful ornaments on works by Cima.

These two discs represent a welcome contribution to the ever-growing body of early music recordings and are recommended to our readers not only on the merits of the playing, but on the breadth of repertoire and the grand gesture of commitment of having an instrument built in order to perform with such a fine organ.

--- James Miller

Battalia: Baroque Battle Music for Trumpet Consort

Battalia: Baroque Battle Music for Trumpet Consort; Tibicines Ensemble, Igino Conforzi, Director and trumpet; Andrea Di Mario, Marco Nesi, Tranquillo Forza, trumpets; Pier Gabriele Collegari, trumpet and bombard; Mauro Morini, trumpet, tenor trombone, bass trombone, serpent; David Yacus, bass and alto trombone; Alberto Ponchio, bombard and shawm; Linda Severi, bombard and shawm; Nocola Moneta, percussion; Andrea Macinanti, organ. Arts Music 47666-8 SACD.
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Recorded in 2001.

Continuing his efforts at exploring music with combined forces of natural trumpet ensemble and wind band, Igino Conforzi has presented a very convincing argument with this current recording of battle music of various sorts. The trumpet ensemble repertoire included pieces by Fantini and Bendinelli as well as vocal and instrumental music imitating trumpet music, the so-called "battle" genre by Attaignant, Susato, Gastoldi, Garsi, and Praetorius. Conforzi uses his forces on these works with spectacular results. That such major figures as Praetorius and the others worked on this type of music speaks to the importance of trumpet repertoire even though there is a paucity of pure early trumpet ensemble music. Concerning the use of the combined wind-band and trumpet ensemble, Conforzi presents a number of documents that indicate this aggregation was used in many situations. As they say, "the proof of the pudding is in the tasting" and this mélange tastes wonderful! Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this recording is the last cut which includes music from the CD as well as the sounds of a real battle with cannon and the clanking of swords and weapons said to be exact replicas of museum armaments and weaponry. My immediate reaction to reading in the liner notes that the weapons were replicas of museum pieces was, "What's the difference? The clanking of metal against metal is just clanking." However, on consideration I had a sense of guilt since I was taking a similar view to those who propose that playing Gabrieli on modern trumpets is just the same as employing cornetti. No doubt the weight and type of metal of different swords might very well produce different sounds and textures and Conforzi and company should be praised for the great lengths in which they went to produce the sounds of a 17th-century battle. Concerning authenticity, the entire CD is performed without vent holes! The noted Italian musicologist Marco di Pasquale collaborated on this project with Conforzi providing historical information. The ensemble plays with flare and precision. They use a number of different instruments including trumpets by Callegari, Forza, Parker, Nesi, and Egger, and trombones by E. Meinl, Monke, and Glassl. The serpent is made by the Monk Workshop. This is an interesting and beautifully performed recording.

--- Jeffrey Nussbaum

Le Concerts Bris

BCD Anchor, ancor ... : Musiques virtuoses et improvisees pout Cornet a Bouquin. Le Concert Brisé, William Dongois, cornetto. Info. a class="Normal" href=""> or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Recorded June 2004.

L'Âge D'Or du Cornet a Bouquin [the Golden Age of the Cornett]; Le Concert Brisé, William Dongois, cornetto. K617. K617187/3. Distributed by Harmonia Mundi. Available at
Recorded June 27-July 1, 2005.

William Dongois has recently released a truly impressive collection of recordings with his ensemble Le Concert Brisé. Anchor, ancor ... is a single CD of 17th-century Italian repertoire with such composers as Bassani, Dalla Casa, Ferrari, and Barbarino represented.

L'Age D'Or is a 3-disk set. Volume 1 is an anthology of Italian dances, diminutions, improvisations, and sonatas. Volume 2 is music by composers associated with Venice in the time of Monteverdi. Volue 3 is music by Buxtehude.

Dongois plays with elegance and charming phrasing while offering the listener breath-taking technical virtuosity. Although the single CD has little in the way of liner notes (all of which are only in French), the 3-volume collection offers lengthy essays (in English and French) on the history of the cornetto, its repertoire, and the practice of improvisation. The third volume is all transcriptions of works by Buxtehude which Dongois offers as examples of selections which virtuoso players of the day might have played.

He is joined by Stefan Legee on sackbut for volume 3. Legee's instrument was made by Edward Meinl after Drewelwecz, 1595. Dongois plays a variety of cornetti made by Christoph Schuler (at 465 and 490), Serge Delmas (465), Henri Gohin (520), and John McCann (440).

One is both amazed at the amount of work which went into this immense project of recordings and inspired by Dongois' dazzling technical display. All of these recordings deserve the highest attention of HBS members.

--- Jim Miller