Vintage Cornet Recital by Mark Ponzo

Mark Ponzo, cornet, and JeongSoo Kim, Piano. Vintage Cornet Recital. Mark Masters (51330-MCD), 2014. 

I remember as a high school student searching in vain to find good recordings of various cornet solos on the contest lists. The problem was always either the liberties taken with the parts by the cornetists or the use of a brass band as an accompanimental ensemble. Of course, little did I know that they were originally written for use with brass bands: I just wanted to hear them the way I was going to play them and for my own practice purposes. It would seem, based on the liner notes, that Mark Ponzo experienced much the same thing and likely crafted this CD to fill just such a niche.

Perhaps the best endorsement for this CD is that it is an ideal listening experience for the student. Ponzo does not resort to needless embellishment or flashy playing (though the playing is artful to be sure), instead confining himself to the written music for the most part. His cornet playing is expressive and his accompanist, JeongSoo Kim, is sensitive and responsive to his ideas, but they do not go to the extremes heard in so many other recordings. Getting back to the student listener idea, I would not hesitate to recommend this CD to someone experiencing (or wishing to play) golden-age cornet solos for the first time. The recording gives us fine playing and an enjoyable listening experience.

My only criticism is one that could easily have been fixed in the liner notes (which are limited in content). Ponzo notes his enthusiasm for collecting antique cornets and there are hints that he here plays on one or more of his favorite cornets from that collection. Yet nothing indicates what instrument he plays (or if he is also playing on an antique mouthpiece). It would have been nice to know, if only for authenticity’s sake (and for making the rest of us jealous of his collection!). In any case Ponzo gives us a great, even prototypical, cornet sound throughout.

-- Bryan Proksch

La Luchesina by His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornets

His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, La Luchesina: Vocal and Instrumental Music of Gioseffo Guami (1542–1611), sFz Music (0115), ASIN: B00YCTUDKM, 2015.

Jamie Savan, director; Nicholas Mulroy, tenor; Eamonn Dougan, baritone; Jamie Savan: treble cornett by John McCann, alto cornett by CyberZink, mute cornett by Serge Delmas, tenor cornett by Christopher Monk; Jeremy West: treble cornett by Matthew Jennejohn; Helen Roberts: treble cornett by Paolo Faniciullacci, tenor cornett by Christoph Shuler; Gawain Glenton, treble cornett by Matthew Jennejohn, alto cornett by Serge Delmas; Adam Woolf, alto and tenor sackbuts by Ewald Meinl; Abigail Newman, alto and tenor sackbuts by Ewald Meinl; Stephen Saunders, bass sackbut by Ewald Meinl; Miguel Tantos Sevillano, tenor sackbut by Egger Instruments; Keith McGowan, dulcian by Graham Lyndon Jones; Jan Waterfield: organ by Henk Klop Orgelbouw, supplied and tuned by Keith McGowan. 

Tuning: a=466Hz, ¼ comma mean-tone temperament. Recorded in St. Brandon’s Church, Brancepeth, 26-28 February, 2014.

The magnificent music of Gioseffo Guami is presented on this latest recording by His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, which features the vocal arts of tenor, Nicholas Mulroy and baritone, Eaamonn Dougan. Jamie Savan has assumed the role of director now and offers excellent liner notes describing the importance of Guami’s music. HBS listeners will hear many similarities to the music of Gabrieli in Guami, and for good reason: Gabrieli knew him in Bavaria and was one of many musicians who enthusiastically recommended Guami for the position of first organist at St. Mark’s in Venice. The present recording is a combination of instrumental and vocal/instrumental works. The word “inspired” comes to mind. This listener finds himself just taking one deep, relaxed breath of air after the next while hearing the recording.

First of all, there is an overall sound which is true for each track: refined, burnished, warm, heartfelt. This is true for slow passages as well as the technical passage. There simply is no “rough edge” anywhere.

The group makes ample use of alto and tenor cornets. They can be heard especially in the Canzon vigesimaquinta and La Guamina. Regarding brilliantly played passagi, interest must be directed to La Battaglia. Generally, pieces with this title are rapid-fire displays of technical virtuosity, often with more accentuated articulation. Not so on this recording. HMSC offers an almost subdued affect which actually makes the technical passages all the more outstanding, but in a truly refined way.

Their performance of La Grave (Jeremy West playing the top part) is exemplary: the height of delicate, thoughtful phrasing—entirely befitting this absolute musical gem. Jamie Savan’s mute cornett playing on La Todeschina is exquisite in its phrasing and shading of dynamics and articulation. Attention should be paid in In die resurrectione to how beautifully the cornetti, especially Jeremy west on the top line, blend with the voices, smoothly weaving in and out, always supporting yet deferring to the voices.

I highly recommend this CD to our HBS members. His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts continue to offer recordings of the highest artistic level. This is a truly noble recording. It is an inspiration.

James Miller

Eleven by Rook

Rook, Eleven, Rook Early Music LLC / Rook (888295187572), 2015.

Jakob Hansen, violin; Paul Von Hoff, trombone and slide trumpet; Jeremy David Ward, bass violin; Mark Shuldiner, harpsichord; Bill Baxstresser, cornetto; Violin by Sebastian Maria; Tenor Trombone by Egger after Sebastian Hainlein, Nuremburg, 1632; Alto Trombone by Egger after Heironimus Starck, Nuremburg, 1670 (used for Bassano); Slide Trumpet by Geert Jan van der Heide after Hans Merling painting, 15th c (used for Willaert); Mouthpieces by Geert van der Heide.

Tuning at ¼ comma meantone, A=440, Recorded July 15-18, Alice Millar Chapel, Northwestern University

Rather scant liner notes (which can be downloaded by following the above link) explain the purpose of Rook: “attempting to understand what type of musical experience was valued by musicians 400 years ago can work as a catalyst for moving beyond prevailing and prescribed ideas of interpretation and ensemble….The trombone and bass violin adapted the facility and speed of the violin. String instruments adapted the variety of articulation and dynamic shaping available to the brass.” This listener is more an accomplished performer on cornetto and natural trumpet than a knowledgeable scholar of the issues outlined above and to other particulars of string instruments mentioned in the notes. Perhaps others will be able to appreciate these above-stated goals of Rook. What is apparent, though, is the virtuosic playing of all players, with special emphasis on technical speed. This is in part due to the preponderance of very animated music by such composers as Dario Castello and Bartelomeo de Slema y Salverde. It may seem that the program is weighted more heavily in extroverted affect, but I invite the listener to Ingiustissimo amor by Constano Festa (c 1485-1545) as an example of a truly refined and heartfelt performance. Cornettist Bill Baxstresser is listed as a special guest. No information is provided regarding his instrument or mouthpiece. He offers sensitive playing  on an interesting Pavan by Samuel Scheidt. There is no denying the technical skill of the members of Rook. Their program offers many little-performed works. I invite our members to hear this recording.

James Miller

Radek Baborák, Orquestrina

Radek Baborák, Orquestrina (Animal Music ANI 044-2) 2014.

While not the standard fare reviewed here for the HBS, Radek Baborák’s recent CD Orquestrina presents very compelling horn playing together with third-stream twists on some well-known classics. The recordings include Ravel’s Boléro and Fauré’s Pavane, a suite of Hassidic tunes by Lev Kogan, and Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango, among other things. Baborák’s title derives from a small Portuguese dance orchestra, a fitting title given the feel of the entire album and the type of ensemble used (three hornists, a handful of strings, and a clarinetist are the heart of the ensemble). It might be easy to dismiss the recording as “yet another third-stream thing,” but in its defense the arrangements are really spot on and the playing equally so, with the result that the entirety is compelling. The rendition of Fauré’s Pavane as a horn solo, beautifully played, will have you convinced that it was the composer’s original intent. While there is not much in the way of variety of style—it is almost non-stop third stream—there are quite a few interesting repertoire decisions that help to vary things more than might be imagined. My only real criticism is that the producer was not quite as careful about his microphone distances as needed on occasion (the bass clarinet’s breathing in the Piazzolla’s quieter moments gets a bit distracting, for instance, and sometimes you can hear more of the keys clicking than is right). This fault aside, the CD is a good listen that presents some great playing. Did I mention some very well-done artwork for the liner notes too?

--Bryan Proksch, Lamar University

Gabriele Cassone, Di Trombe Guerriere

Ensemble Pian & Forte, Di Trombe Guerriere (Dynamic CDS 7710) 2015.

Gabriele Cassone and Matteo Frigé, trumpet

Francesca Cassinari, Marta Fumagalli, Roberto Balconi, and Mauro Borgioni, voice

The author of the liner notes for this CD, Alessandro Borin, seems to be under the impression that trumpeters think Vivaldi somehow neglected the instrument. We all know about the famous Concerto for Two Trumpets and the ever-popular Gloria, but if there were still any doubters out there as to Vivaldi’s interest in the trumpet this recording will hopefully lay such mistaken views to rest. Of course, Gabriele Cassone and Matteo Frigé play a fine (apparently obligatory) rendition of the Concerto (I think I’ve got about a dozen of them now) as well as the popular “Combatta un Gentil Cor” from the opera Tito Manlio; they also play a bunch of other far more obscure selections for trumpet gleaned from Vivaldi’s operas.

The really interesting part of the recording for the brass enthusiast, historically speaking at least, are the seven trumpet and voice duets taken from six of Vivaldi’s many operas. Selected from Montezuma, Il Teuzone, Tito Manlio, Catone in Utica, Scanderbeg, and La Fida Ninfa, they provide a much more complete picture of Vivaldi’s trumpet writing than one might have expected. My impression based on this recording was that the composer had a handful of tricks up his sleeve for the trumpet and that he rotated these in and out from opera to opera. That is, there is just enough variety in his melodies to differentiate one from another, though there are enough similarities to the point that you may get the musical version of déjà vu if listening in one sitting. There are also two concertos on this CD that are not for trumpet at all (RV 554a for Organ, Violin, and Cello and RV 779 for Oboe, Violin, Organ and Chalumeau); certain sections in both reminded me of Vivaldi’s trumpet writing: perhaps this is why these particular works were included, though the liner notes are silent as to the underlying reasoning.

The playing (and singing) on this recording are very good indeed, but with a caveat. I am under the distinct impression that Cassone and Frigé play without modern vent holes, but the CD does not provide specific information. So either they play on true natural trumpets very well (I presume this to be the case) or they have vented instruments with occasional minor tuning lapses (which seems unlikely given Cassone’s towering reputation). Somewhat confusing the issue is that the photos of Cassone and Frigé in the booklet are at odds with one another: Cassone poses with an unvented trumpet while Frigé clearly holds a vented instrument. I must confess to not being too interested in debating the merits or reopening old debates, but there is still something impressive about a well-done recording on natural trumpets such as I presume this one is. 

Cassone here provides us with food for thought by revealing a larger and more representative cross-section of Vivaldi’s works for trumpet than is usual. The playing is idiomatic in every way, ranging from the delicate obbligato lines typical of a trumpet accompanying an operatic voice to the obnoxious noise expected from a wartime trumpet in a battle scene. Those who want to play (or hear) the famous Concerto for Two Trumpets from a broader and more considered musical perspective will need to buy this CD right away. Those who just like Vivaldi and/or the natural trumpet simply on their own merits should probably do the same!

Bryan Proksch, Lamar University

La Fanfare Wagnérienne by Eric Crees

Eric Crees with Guildhall Brass, La Fanfare Wagnérienne (The Extraordinary Lost Collection of Paul Gilson) Musical Concepts MC245, 2013.

In our present age, where everything from a pizza to a sunset to God is deemed “awesome,” a reviewer needs to be careful that his words have meaning and he does not descend into adjective-laden hyperbole. But there is no exaggeration at play in saying that Eric Crees and the students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have given us a wholly satisfying recording that exhibits all of the hallmarks of a superb, memorable and historically important offering: compelling repertoire, engaging performance, inspired leadership, informed scholarship and excellent recorded sound.

Readers of this Journal will recall Luc Vertommen’s book with three companion compact discs, Some Missing Episodes in Brass (Band) History, that was reviewed by this writer (HBSJ 24 [2012], 196–99). Vertommen's book—really an adaptation of his 2011 Doctoral dissertation from the University of Salford—highlighted three aspects of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century brass history that had fallen into obscurity: the trombone with six independent valves and the solo music written for it by Jules Demesserman, Adolphe Sax's development of the saxhorn family and music written and arranged for saxhorns by Belgian composers from 1850 to 1913, and the original compositions for Fanfare Wagnérienne by Paul Gilson composed between 1894 and 1909. Aspects of this were explored by Ray D. Burkhart in his paper, “The Paris Factor: French influence on brass chamber music 1840-1930,” presented at the Historic Brass Society Conference in Paris, 2007, but Vertommen's book, despite its disjointed structure and alarmingly poor editing and proofreading, proved useful in shedding more light on instruments and music that are worthy of further study. Of the three subjects, it is the music composed by Paul Gilson, found in the Library of the Royal Conservatory, Brussels, that was Vertommen's great discovery.

Original works for mixed brass ensemble began to appear with greater frequency in the late nineteenth century; among the more compelling examples are Edvard Grieg's 1878 arrangement for brass of his Sørgenmarsch over Rikard Nordråk of 1866, the brass quintets of Viktor Ewald composed beginning around 1890 and the brass septets of Jean Sibelius from 1889-1899. However, Percy Fletcher has often been credited with having composed the first significant, original composition, Labour and Love, for a large brass ensemble; for British-style brass band to be precise. Composed as the test piece for the 1913 Crystal Palace National Contest (won by Irwell Springs conducted by William Halliwell), Labour and Love represented a radical departure from the standard fare for brass bands that had been played in concert and contest up to that point, that being arrangements of classical and popular orchestral works, marches and solos. That Luc Vertommen uncovered a substantial body of high quality original works written for brasses by Belgian composer Paul Gilson during the two decades before Fletcher's seminal work is not merely notable but it causes us to rewrite the received history of brass ensemble music.

Paul Gilson (1865–1942) composed six pieces (or seven, depending on how one counts them) for the “Fanfare Wagnérienne”, a brass and percussion ensemble organized in 1894 at the Brussels Conservatory by Henri Séha. The ensemble’s instrumentation was patterned after the brass scoring of Richard Wagner in his Das Ring der Nibelungen and called for trumpets (including bass trumpet), horns, Wagner tubas, trombones (including contrabass trombone) tubas (including contrabass tuba) and percussion. These are important, substantial pieces, the longest of which, Variations Symphoniques (1903) clocks in at about 20 minutes. Vertommen, with his deep roots in brass banding, arranged Gilson’s compositions for British-style brass band and released a recording, Anthology of Flemish Band Music Vol. 7 – Paul Gilson (1865–1942): Complete works for the Fanfare Wagnérienne” with Brass Band Buizingen and Delta Brass Zeeland under his direction. This recording brought Gilson’s music much needed attention but at the time of its release in 2012 it begged the question, “What does Gilson's music sound like in the composer’s intended instrumentation?”

Having been introduced to Gilson’s music by Luc Vertommen, into the breech stepped Eric Crees. His background as trombonist with the London Symphony and Royal Opera Covent Garden and as an arranger, composer, and teacher – he is Professor of Trombone and conductor of Wind, Brass and Percussion at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, and was recipient of the International Trombone Association's 2014 Neill Humfield Award—uniquely positioned him to bring Gilson’s music alive once again as intended.  The result is the 2013 release, La Fanfare Wagnérienne (The Extraordinary Lost Collection of Paul Gilson) and publication of Crees’s performing editions of Gilson’s music. The result is superb.

Eric Crees’s decision to explore this repertoire in its original instrumentation with students at London’s Guildhall School is testament to the skill and commitment of his young charges who, from all appearances, embraced rehearsing, performing and recording Gilson’s works during the 2010–11 school year with startling commitment. One is hard pressed to find cause to think that the Guildhall Brass is “just another student group.” Rather, the nearly 50 students who participated in the three recording sessions for the project – a complete list of personnel is given in the CD booklet – show themselves to be professional in every way, with clarity and purity of sound, a wide dynamic range, blistering technique and, with a tip of the hat to those playing the Alexander Wagner tubas, spot-on intonation. Within the first 30 seconds of the opening track, Gilson’s Scherzo Fantastique, one hears the brass section enter in turn – trumpets, horns, trombones and then tubas—in a fanfare that is electrifying in its power and ability to engage the listener. This is both playing and music of extraordinarily high quality that makes for immensely enjoyable listening.

A word must be said about the comparison of Crees’s recording of Gilson’s music in the original instrumentation and Luc Vertommen’s recording of the same repertoire in his arrangement for British-style brass band. The sonic contrast could not be more striking, with the cylindrical bore trumpets and trombones of Guildhall Brass providing much more visceral impact and aural diversity than the saxhorns of the Vertommon’s brass bands. Each editor has made particular choices in how to negotiate Gilson’s considerable demands.  Nowhere is this more evident than in Gilson’s Fantasie. In the Guildhall Brass recording, trombones expertly execute a rapidly articulated passage at 2:48 that comes immediately after a lyrical, soft chorale featuring Wagner and bass tubas. The contrast in color and articulation is very satisfying for the listener, to say nothing of the fine technical work of the young trombonists.  But in the same passage, Vertommen moves the trombones to the chorale and leaves it to baritones and euphoniums to play the technical passage, and slurred rather than articulated. The result falls rather flat by comparison.

Not only does the Guildhall Brass recording contain well-written and informative program notes by Eric Crees, but Crees also has provided an extensive document – available on the Musical Concepts website – that outlines the editorial procedure for creating the performing edition of Gilson’s works. Crees has not created an urtext or critical edition. Rather, as the experienced performer and conductor that he is, he has edited Gilson with a modern eye and ear, modifying various instrument transpositions and indicating optional doublings, providing sensible metronome markings and bringing Gilson’s notation up to modern standards. Reading Crees’s document is an enlightening exercise that gives the listener even greater appreciation of the care given to showing Gilson’s music in the best possible light.

Recordings are too easy to produce and advertising is too successful in persuading the marketplace that mediocre is excellent. This is certainly the case with many recordings of music for large brass ensemble, where volume and power often are used to disguise either poor playing or musical kitsch. Happily, Eric Crees and students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have given us reason for hope. Not only is La Fanfare Wagnérienne (The Extraordinary Lost Collection of Paul Gilson) a recording of consequential repertoire, but the work of the Guildhall Brass students shows us that brass playing is in good hands with these players of the younger generation. Eric Crees is to be commended for his efforts in editing Gilson’s music and bringing it back to life in its original instrumentation over 100 years after it was first performed. Highly recommended.

-- Douglas Yeo, Arizona State University

Mozart: Stolen Beauties by Anneke Scott


Anneke Scott and Ironwood, Mozart: Stolen Beauties, Chamber music by Mozart, Punto, and Michael Haydn (ABC Classics, 2014) .

Ironwood personnel: Alice Evans & Julia Fredersdorff, violins, Nicole Forsyth & Heather Lloyd, violas, Daniel Yeadon, cello, Neal Peres Da Costa, pianoforte.
Instruments: Natural horn: Courtois Frère, Paris, c. 1835, with a detachable périnet valve set (sauterelle) by Antoine Halary, Paris, c. 1840; Violins: Mittenwald, 1750, and an 18th century Cremonese instrument; Violas: Thomas Dodd, London, 1820, and a Guarnarius copy built in 1998; Cello: William Forster II, London, c. 1780; Fortepiano: copy by D. Jacques Way, after Anton Walter, c. 1790



Anneke Scott is a natural horn player of the highest order. Her recent releases of works by Gallay are incomparable, and this recording lives up to the same standard. Mozart: Stolen Beauties is a delightful collection of works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giovanni Punto, and Michael Haydn. Additionally, this recording features an incredibly demanding set of variations on Mozart’s “Là ci darem la mano” found among the music left behind by the Italian horn virtuoso Giovanni Puzzi. The composer of the variations remains unknown, but the piece gives us a wonderful snapshot of the virtuosity of Puzzi, a student of Luigi Belloli who greatly impressed Napoleon and then went on to become the foremost horn player in London during the first half of the 19th century.


Scott’s playing on this collection is sensitive throughout. Her articulations and tone quality consistently match the timbre of the other period instruments, from the velvety string sounds to the delicate sound of the fortepiano. There are many moments throughout the recording in which the strings and horns emulate each other’s portamentos with great ease.

Aside from the incredible set of variations that opens this recording, there are two very interesting presentations. One is an arrangement of Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio (originally for clarinet, viola, and piano) set for horn, viola, cello, and piano. This Concertante setting was arranged by Barham Livius (1787–1865). Livius was a pupil of Giovanni Puzzi’s and a businessman in London, and similar to the variations on “Là ci darem la mano,” Livius’s arrangement was found in the folio of works left behind by Puzzi. The other pieces on this recording that are of particular interest are three movements from Giovanni Punto’s duets for horn and cello, especially since there may be no other recording available of these pieces on period instruments (at least as far as I am aware).

-- Eric Brummitt

Anneke Scott, Songs of Love, War and Melancholy

Anneke Scott, Songs of Love, War and Melancholy: The Operatic Fantasies of Jacques-François Gallay, Resonus Classics (RES10153), 2015.

Anneke Scott, natural horn (cor solo by Marcel-Auguste Raoux, 1823), Steven Devine, piano (grand piano by Érard, 1851), Lucy Crowe, soprano. Recorded at the Ruddick Performing Arts Centre, Birmingham on 16-18 August 2014Gallay’s fantasies on the operatic favorites of his day should be essential repertoire for any student of the horn. The intense vocal quality of the melodic lines contained in these fantasies is better than any of the vocalise studies I have played, even those of Giuseppe Concone. Certainly, the fact that these fantasies were composed by an expert hornist contributes to their superiority. But these fantasies also contain some of the most naturally “vocal” lines I have ever heard composed for the horn. Perhaps I am biased being a fan of the Italian repertoire, but other horn players will be hard pressed to disparage the quality of Gallay’s writing in these fantasies.

In this recording, Anneke Scott’s playing is exquisite. Her tone quality, expertly executed ornamentations, and agile hand-stopping technique make these performances truly remarkable. The piano playing by Steven Devine is perfectly balanced to Scott’s horn and together they produce hair-raising dynamic contrasts and bombastic finishes. Lucy Crowe’s voice is perfectly suited to the bel canto style of these settings and together with Scott’s horn the listener is treated to some fine duets between the soprano and the horn.

The fantasies Gallay composed that are represented on this recording are based material composed by the top Italian composers of the day: Bellini, Donizetti, and Mercadante. Gallay was the solo horn of the Théâtre Italien, beginning in 1825. The repertoire he played during his tenure there understandably became the inspiration for these wonderful compositions.

This recording includes extensive liner notes that are both enlightening and well written (they are downloadable by following the publisher’s link above). The importance of these fantasies as part of Gallay’s repertoire is discussed at length in the liner notes, along with the social and performance contexts in which these pieces would have been heard. Scott has dedicated a great deal of time in recent years to recording the music of Gallay. The liner notes she has written for this recording display her immense respect for the music, Gallay, and her world-class scholarship.

-- Eric Brummitt