Beautifully Blended Trombone Choir Delights Sunday Crowd
The sight of 13 trombone players and two tuba players walking on stage promised a huge sound, but the Oberlin Trombone Choir’s concert last Sunday afternoon in Warner Concert Hall also proved that there’s nothing like the noble color of a brass ensemble. Never obnoxious, the group’s powerful, satisfying sound inspired a certain nostalgia for past times of dignity and taste.
Giovanni Palestrina’s Ecce veniet dies illa opened the concert in Baroque style. The trombones sounded vibrant with a polite forte, which they sustained until the end of the program. Director James DeSano was an exact conductor, leading the ensemble with a firm hand.
Charles De Paolo’s arrangement of the famous Adagio by Samuel Barber filled Warner with soft long melodies that were fuzzy around the edges. It wasn’t hard to imagine a viscount’s funeral march with the trombones walking behind the coffin.
Before intermission, Raymond Premru’s In Memoriam officially set the atmosphere of noble mourning. The Choir’s perfect unison was startling and its never-pushy forte crowned the climax of the piece. The offbeat accents beautifully supported the expressive dynamic arches.
The blending of the divine instruments continued with another Baroque piece, Sonata Piano Forte by Giovanni Gabrieli. The notion that Baroque music is lawfully wed to the trombone was firmly reestablished.
The homogeneity of the Trombone Choir helped the performers to achieve the dark sound of Sir Edward Elgar’s Nimrod from Enigma Variations. After a brief false start, the ensemble firmly started again and painted an enchanting picture.
Madden and Conservatory junior Christian Behrens’s bass trombone entrance into Bach’s Passacaglia in E minor is worthy of mention. The dynamic building towards a well-rounded forte was indeed notable, while the unison scales in the tenor trombones proved to the audience that the members of the Trombone Choir were successful in blending their sound into a cohesive whole.
That’s a Plenty, arranged by Jack Gala, closed the program. Although also neatly prepared and carefully put together, it could have used more freedom of expression and less academism. After all, a showpiece like that should sound fun, not perfectly poised.
Conservatory senior and bass trombonist Jack Madden commented on his experience in the Trombone Choir: “I first played in the trombone choir as a prospective student when I was a senior in high school. The beautiful, immense sound of twenty trombones helped draw me into Oberlin. Mr. DeSano teaches us to blend with each other in a way that is overlooked by many other teachers. The result is most pleasing. Many historical treatises tell us that the trombone is the most divine of instruments.”