American Brass Quintet, Olmos
A feast of chamber music, new and old
October 22, 2013
With concerts piling up in the usual October rush,
this review will have to be a two-fer, covering brass (the
American Brass Quintet on Sunday afternoon) and woodwinds,
strings and keyboard (the Olmos Ensemble on Monday night).
Percussionists will have to beat their own drums.
The American Brass Quintet’s concert, a rare foray into the
brass repertoire for the San Antonio Chamber Music Society,
ranged from the 16th century to the near-present.
One of the troupe’s trumpeters, Raymond Mase, created
idiomatic arrangements of Renaissance vocal material, three
madrigals by Luca Marenzio and five chansons by Josquin des
Prés. These sounded wonderful in the airy acoustics of
Temple Beth-El, even if the spacious sound took a little of
the bite away from Josquin’s familiar “El Grillo.”
Strongest of the contemporary works was the American
composer Joan Tower’s “Copperwave,” commissioned for the ABQ
by the Juilliard School. It begins with a six-note motto
that serves as the touchstone for the entire 10-minute work.
It’s a dramatic, arresting piece, gaining rhythmic vibrancy
from the use of a conga-dance rhythm. It’s expertly crafted:
Ms. Tower finds seemingly endless possibilities in that
generative motto through processes of variation, elaboration
and deconstruction. The structure is rather like a sequence
of rooms with differing spatial character, and it closes
with a cadenza for each of the players.
Also memorable was the Fantasia e Rondó (1977) by the
Brazilian composer Ovaldo Lacerda, whose ingratiating and
rhythmically eccentric Three Pieces for Oboe were heard on
an Olmos ensemble concert in August.
Like that work, the Fantasia e Rondó is a little hard to
peg, stylistically. The Fantasia is witty and sometimes
woozy, colored with rich modern-jazz harmonies, and notable
for passages of chattering from muted trumpets. The lively,
infectious Rondó has more distinctly Brazilian character.
The whole piece is at once familiar and exotic, and
The American composer David Sampson’s “Chesapeake,”
composed for the ABQ in 2010, is a four-movement piece about
sailing. The music is tonal, with yearning, big-sky
harmonies, and intricate counterpoint always keeps wind in
Pleasant but slight were five Romantic salon pieces by
Ludwig Maurer, a German who spent his professional life in
The performances were consistently taut, polished and
lively. The players were undaunted by any and all virtuosic
demands. Joining Mr. Mase were Kevin Cobb (trumpet), David
Wakefield (horn), Michael Powell (trombone) and John D.
Rojak (bass trombone).
The Olmos Ensemble’s mostly-baroque concert in First
Unitarian Universalist Church was notable for two débuts.
The Korean native Jae Ha is principally an organist -- he
earned his doctorate in organ performance from UT-Austin in
2003 and since then has been organist at San Antonio’s First
Presbyterian Church. But for this concert he played the
harpsichord throughout the program, in music by Handel,
Telemann, Boccherini and Handel, and turned out some of the
most imaginative and astute continuo work I’ve heard. He was
improvising, in the main, because the continuo is usually
notated only as a sequence of harmonies underpinning the
primary musical lines. He did what one expects from a
first-class continuo harpsichordist, finding ways to support
the main lines and propel the music forward, or sometimes to
enliven relatively calm passages, without dominating the
Also making his first Olmos appearance was oboist Matthew
Goree, a 16-year old student of the troupe’s artistic
director and oboist, Mark Ackerman. Student and teacher
played together in Handel’s Trio Sonata in G for two oboes
and continuo (Mr. Ha and cellist Ignacio Gallego). Mr. Goree
played splendidly, with a rich, round tone that was nearly
identical to Ackerman’s, and a bit more digital agility than
Bassoonist Sharon Kuster did wonderfully expressive,
flexible work in Telemann’s Sonata in F Minor, with Mr. Ha
and bassist Zlatan Redzic. Mr. Ackerman was in top form in
the finale, Vivaldi’s Concerto in C, with Mary Ellen Goree
(violin), Renia Piotrowski-Shterenberg (violin), Marisa
Bushman (viola), Mr. Gallego, Mr. Redzic and Mr. Ha.
The concert had been planned to close with JS Bach’s
Ouverture in B Minor for Flute and Strings, but flutist
Martha Long was excused to attend the memorial service for a
close friend who died last week at age 27 -- Andrew
Thompson, a gifted contrabassoonist with the St. Louis
Substituting for the Bach on short notice were stylish,
lively accounts of Handel’s Trio Sonata in C Minor for oboe
(Mr. Ackerman), violin (Ms. Goree) and continuo (Mr. Ha and
Mr. Gallego) and Boccherini’s Sonata in A for cello (Mr.
Gallego) and continuo (Mr. Ha).