Music for brass and organ – strongly recommended by GERALD FENECH
‘Barbara Bruns and the Thompson Brass Ensemble give dazzling performances full of compelling virtuosity and brilliantly executed musical stunts that never fail to surprise …’
The sound of a brass ensemble playing together with an organ is as striking today as it was almost a century ago, when composers started writing and experimenting with this combination with great success. Indeed, this mixture of instruments has such a magnificent natural sound world that its impact cannot be forgotten easily, if ever. The vast majority of this repertoire dates from within the last fifty years and consists either of original works or of transcriptions of music originally written for other forces. Although this defined musical ensemble is new to the scene, this combination did not appear from thin air. The roots are long and many. The history of organs playing with ensembles is ancient; the custom was practically universal in Bach’s time and for at least a generation before, and there is also a long history of works for trumpet solo or duo with organ.
One of the joys of this CD is that it transports us beyond the familiar high-occasion repertoire, revealing an almost infinite range of mood and versatility of sound and style that most listeners have few opportunities to get to hear. The composers on show are all household names, and cover almost 350 years of musical innovation.
J S Bach, Campra, Buxtehude and Giovanni Gabrieli carry the Baroque standard, Schumann, Rimsky-Korsakov and Richard Strauss honour the Romantic era, while Alan Hovhaness is the twentieth century’s flag bearer. A mixed bag indeed of musical creativity that is excitingly spectacular and emotionally climactic.
Barbara Bruns and the Thompson Brass Ensemble give dazzling performances full of compelling virtuosity and brilliantly executed musical stunts that never fail to surprise, and the programme has a mesmerizing beauty that keeps you entranced for its hour plus duration.
Absolutely enthralling stuff excellently recorded and professionally presented. Strongly recommended.
Copyright © 4 May 2017 Gerald Fenech
Regarding Ikkyu’s Dream:
“Philip Swanson has said that lyricism is at the heart of everything that he does. There is not a moment in this 11-piece collection of solo piano music that contradicts that maxim. He presents the material in a consistent manner that, under lesser hands, could produce monotony. There is a pervasive whiff of melancholy (Swanson prefers minor keys), restricted dynamics, and generally leisurely tempos, rendering an overarching sensibility with a concentrated purpose. The effect is, as the title song suggests, dreamy. These are mainly recordings of Swanson as an improviser, which is apparent in his style of playing, featuring a firm bass line in the left hand and a freely flowing rubato in the right hand. More than half of the songs bear Swanson’s name, but even when the original composers are such figures as Miles Davis ( Blue in Green , two takes), Richard Rodgers ( My Funny Valentine ), and Chick Corea ( Crystal Silence ), the personal imprint of Swanson is firmly felt.
Swanson admits influences from classical figures, especially Debussy, but the idiom of this music is essentially jazz. The tradition of that music is immensely rich and varied, but the sound of one figure rings out, a hero of Swanson, Bill Evans. His particular profile sounds through in two ways here: via Swanson’s pulsating, humanistic sense of rhythm, and especially, his infatuation with rich and intriguing harmonies. A jazz pianist could not wish for higher praise than to be mentioned in the same breath as Bill Evans. Philip Swanson has achieved something quite formidable, albeit with stealthy elegance, to conjure the comparison.”
— Peter Burwasser, Fanfare Magazine (read the entire article)
Regarding Lengthening Shadows:
“…this material is consistently melodic and concisely made, it is filled with delicate filigree and sparkling harmonies. The shadows of Chopin and Brahms hover…several pieces have the unmistakable flavor of Vince Guaraldi…As a performer, Swanson displays an easy virtuosity that adds to the beguiling character of this CD….”
— Fanfare Magazine – November/December 2006
Regarding Veni Creator Spiritus:
“Swanson produces striking results [in his Variations]…The harmonizations found throughout this haunting work are arresting and highly original…many of the chords work in quite unexpected but always affectively satisfying ways…Barbara Bruns’ transcription [of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise] is true to its spirit, and aptly exploits Swanson’s roundly mellow trombone tone…the 1967 Beckerath organ is effectively captured in its warm, clarifying, and sonically gratifying space…Hidas’ [work] brings this offering to a satisfying close…Barbara Bruns acquits herself admirably…”
— Fanfare Magazine – November/December 2006
Regarding Veni Creator Spiritus:
“This C.D. is first-rate in every respect”
– Diapason – January 2010
“I first heard J.D. Scrimgeour and Phil Swanson live at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Lowell. This album returns me to that magical afternoon when J.D., the poet, and Phil Swanson, multi-talented musician and composer, blended their talents. At times, the music serves to underscore the emotions of the poetry; other times the music asserts its own poetry. The effect is stunning. A true confluence of poetry and music, this album is a treat for the ear and the heart.”
— Claire Keyes, poet, author of The Question of Rapture
“Poet J.D. Scrimgeour and musician-composer Philip Swanson are engaged in a fascinating endeavor, exploring the parallel and entwined paths of syncopated poetry and meditative melody. Swanson’s piano and trombone passages are much more than ‘accompaniment,’ and Scrimgeour’s recited verse are not merely ‘lyrics.’ Both of these artists are deeply grounded in the classic literature of their respective traditions, and the results of this dynamic collaboration are resonant, eloquent, and enjoyable. Our audience for their performance in Robert Frost’s old barn were transported.”
— Jim Schley, poet, former director of The Frost Place and author of As When, In Season
“The marriage of poetry and music takes an uncommon combination of delicacy and drive. Confluence has both the touch and the strength as it melds the texts of J.D. Scrimgeour and other poets with the marvelous persuasion of Philip Swanson’s music. The result is seamless—at once brimming with lucid language and musical feeling.”
— Baron Wormser, former Poet Laureate of Maine
Gary Wood’s singing communicates words and meaning vividly, and he and the composer work very well together in creating the right moods…. Excellent notes by the composer and full texts round out the production.”
— Henry Fogel, Fanfare Magazine [July/Aug 2020]
“Baritone-vocalist Gary Wood and pianist-composer Philip Swanson perform a Swanson song cycle tied to a program of poetic texts about birds–and then they tackle some songbook and Jazz standards related to the same topic…The Swanson works form the central component and the principal attraction of the album… Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird features the Wallace Stevens poem grouping of the same name, set thoughtfully, tonally, with a poetic flair but not with an entirely Modern or Postmodern typicality. At the same time the music does not hearken to Romanticism, either. What they are is songful, invariably… [the Swanson songs are] well worth hearing, so I do not hesitate to recommend that you listen.”
— Grego Applegate Edwards [June 2020]
“Aviary is an album of music devoted to birds, involving transforming three outstanding poems to song and the celebration of four jazz tunes, never to be forgotten in our musical memory…. Wood’s resonant, articulate singing allows the listener to absorb the poetry without having to read the words… His singing is balanced sonically with Swanson’s piano playing, such that one does not overpower the other, a fitting tribute to the recording art… The overall effect of the dual performance of Swanson and Wood is engaging and beautiful throughout. They have created a treasure of a recording to enjoy multiple times as a whole or in part for the sake of the individual poems and songs.”
— Joel C. Thompson, Cherry Grove Music Review [May 2020]