Nights Bright Days
The Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble (you will have to go far to find such a wonderfully named band) was formed in 1992 by students of the University of Chicago, whose faculty buildings, I am reliably informed, feature many, albeit faux, gargoyles. There is nothing faux about the exuberance of the playing of the eight brass and three organ-playing gargoyles, with their three percussionists, all of whom feature at times – but never all together – on this well-played and diverse programme.
The bulk of their repertoire, at least as highlighted here, comes from arrangements, those here made by Craig Garner, who is without doubt an accomplished arranger. His treatment of the Symphony from Purcell’s ode Come, ye sons of art (1694, using Rebecca Herrisone’s edition) is nicely done, and the lyrical acuity of the succeeding aria is replicated in Holst’s Song without Words, originally the slow movement of his Second Suite (1911; later reworked as a part-song, ‘I love my love’). By contrast, Peter Meechan’s Love Songs are more complex, setting Shakespeare’s Sonnets 71, 147, 43 (providing the disc’s title) and 116 for a combination of male narrator, chorus and brass, with protracted instrumental introductions prefacing the vocal settings.
The cream of the crop on the disc, however, are the arrangements for brass, organ, piano and timpani of Britten’s Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes. Some of the Interludes – particularly ‘Sunday Morning’ and ‘Storm’ – come off more naturally for this ensemble than others; the opening organ solo in ‘Dawn’ is near inaudible due to poor balance. The Passacaglia, however, is truly electrifying, as intense an account as I have encountered, with the piano – here played by Mark Sudeith, organist in the Meechan and Holst works – an evocative replica of the opera’s celesta.