Review


Edward Grieg
Holberg Suite:

Arranged by James Haynor

10-part brass ensemble (two brass quintets)

Vancouver, BC, , Canada
Publisher: Cherry Classics Music
Date of Publication: 2011
URL: http://www.cherryclassics.com

Score and parts

Genre: BRASS ENSEMBLES

This is a dynamite transcription, although it might more appropriately be described as an arrangement. Set in the F tonality, Mr. Haynor scores for B-flat trumpets, F horns, trombones and tubas. The trombone parts are given in bass clef throughout and both contain exciting and beautiful melodic moments, as do all the instruments, even tubas.

 

In fact, the beauty of this publication lies in its orchestration. Grieg’s Holberg and Peer Gynt suites are among the most beloved of his works for string orchestra. As such, their string orchestrations are predictably classic. Setting this neo-Baroque suite for a different set of instruments could work for or against its effectiveness; this brass version works splendidly to my ears, and all because of Mr. Haynor’s inventive setting. Yes, trumpets generally cover violin territory, tubas cover celli and bass, etc. But not always and not every important, soloistic moment is scored for trumpet or horn. The two quintets are used in complementary ways but not predictably so. For example, they trade back and forth every two measures in the opening of the Air, but then come together in the first big cadence and stay together in the next section providing supporting roles for solo passages. First trumpets often trade melodic material in conversation, as do the other instruments. Seating the quintets with some separation on stage exemplifies Mr. Haynor’s excellent, somewhat antiphonal setting of the suite; this is a new angle on the piece, one that is not necessarily realized in the string orchestra version.

 

The trombone parts are a pleasure to play. They divide the long note melody in the Prelude and frequently play together in complementary ways, as in the Sarabande, where they play an extended, harmonized, melodic passage together. Both occasionally function as the sole bass instrument for the ensemble and trombone 2 often joins tubas at the unison or octave to add power and color to the bass line.

 

The tuba parts are distinct and complementary, only doubling at unison or octave in bigger, tutti passages. They often trade points of punctuation, or one will sustain while the other makes rhythm on the same pitch, or they will play in unison but one will imitate arco while the other imitates pizzicato. Using tubas to play harmonic notes other than bass notes can be problematic. Mr. Haynor chooses this course only in more tutti passages where one tuba is solidly providing bass support and the result is quite effective.

 

Liberal, well placed rest is found in all parts. Horn and trumpet parts stay in or below the staff with the exception of two, soaring, transcendent measures in the Air where first trumpet rises to written b-flat2. This not only helps make the piece immanently playable but it is musically satisfying to hear brass instruments cast in roles where they function best. All parts depend on nimble articulation and zippy double tonguing is required in the Prelude from all but tubas. Flexibility, warm sounds and advanced phrasing skills are needed to do justice to this well-conceived, fine setting. Score and parts are clear, well edited, stylistically correct, true to the original. Mr. Haynor replaces some of the continuous sixteenth note activity in the Prelude with more manageable and less busy writing, a wise decision that keeps the work within the grasp of a moderately advanced brass ensemble and subtracts nothing from the excitement of the movement. Congratulations to James Haynor. This fine work should become a staple in brass ensemble repertoire.

Reviewer: Mike Hall
Review Published January 31, 2019