Harmonic Brass Munich delivers first-rate, varied program

Harmonic Brass Munich entertained a capacity crowd Sunday afternoon at the First United Methodist Ch

SCHENECTADY — Harmonic Brass Munich entertained a capacity crowd Sunday afternoon at the First United Methodist Church in a varied program that featured the quintet’s customary sensational playing spiced with a dry wit.

It was the group’s ninth appearance on the church’s concert series and is part of its three-week U.S. tour of four states.

The group sported a new member: 26-year old trumpeter Elisabeth Fessler. Trumpeter and arranger Hans Zellner, trombonist Thomas Lux, tubist and group founder Manfred Haeberlein and French hornist and emcee Andreas Binder made a lot of Fessler, spotlighting her in numerous solos. She blended so well that she sounded as if she’d been a member longer than the year.

To begin, the quintet walked down the nave’s center aisle to the apse playing Mouret’s “Rondeau,” known familiarly as the theme for Masterpiece Theatre. Their sound was mellow, phrases were silken and articulations were controlled and smooth. They continued to stand to play from memory two brisk movements from Torelli’s Concerto in D that showed off the quintet’s superb execution and Fessler’s effortless virtuosity. Breathing was unnoticeable and everything was light.

Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” was sonorous and beautifully balanced. A fast movement from Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2” had lovely interweaving lines of equal dynamic levels. For Verdi’s “Triumphal March” from his opera “Aida,” which is one of the great brass moments in opera, the trumpeters did an antiphonal dance sometimes from backstage or on either side of the hall while the others stayed put. It was a mad caper that somehow worked.

With Fessler as Eliza Doolittle in apron or straw hat and Binder as Professor Higgins in top hat, the quintet “acted” and played many of the familiar tunes, which Zellner had arranged, from Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.” They included “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” The scenario was a bit long but the crowd liked it.

Wagner’s “Entry of the Guests” from “Tannhauser” was mellow; a set of popular tunes from Africa was fetching; Anderson’s “Bugler’s Holiday” with Binder playing trumpet was whiz-bang sensational. A bluesy tribute to Louis Armstrong with Binder on snare drum at the end in “Hold That Tiger” brought the crowd to its feet with cheers and whistles. For an encore, Haeberlein amazed everyone with his brilliant technique in “Carnival of Venice.”

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