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On the wings of Seraphs

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Apr 28th, 2018

From left: Rachel Velvikis, Joanna Hersey, Jean Laurenz, Hana Beloglavec, Mary Bowden

On Saturday night the Seraph Brass, an all-female quintet, performed at Hudson Hall Opera House on Warren Street with heavenly gusto as they ran through a variety of melody and mood. A seraph is, of course, a shining angel, an angel of the highest mythical or mystical order. At the beginning of the concert there was low-level rolling thunder to announce their entrance.

They opened with “Prelude” from Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite as arranged by Tom Oltarzewski. This provided an excellent fanfare to open one’s ears. They moved on to Mozart’s “Queen of the Night Aria” from The Magic Flute, an aria famous for its high A, which Mary Bowden played on piccolo trumpet, her favorite instrument. The ensemble blended with better unity in “Three Pieces from Suite Espanola” by Issac Albéniz as arranged by Jeff Luke. Here they were really warmed up and playing with blended unity as well as nuance.

Michael Kamen’s composition Quintet allowed each instrument to both blend and offer brief solo runs. This was a balanced and entertaining composition that permitted each instrument to show off its character as in a convivial group conversation. Here Rachel Velvikis on French horn was outstanding.

We were then treated to three excerpts from a longer sequence about the cosmos, Asteria by Catherine McMichael (b. 1954). This took us on a celestial ride through the constellations Andromeda, Virgo, and the Pleiades. Each panel drew a sound picture of each mythological skyscape. This composition is a notable feature of their first cd recorded in Finland, a video of which appears below.  

Antony DiLorenzo (b. 1967), better known as a music composer, hit a high dramatic note with “Go!” I found this piece to be quite exciting, evoking colors and strong blends, and I felt transported into a new soundscape.  Looking for familiar historical contrast they opted for “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot as arranged by Ivaylo Hristov. While the arrangement was ingenious, it sounded slightly tame when compared to DiLorenzo’s brassy, energetic whirlwind.

In La Virgen del la Macarena by Rafael Mendez as arranged by Jeff Nevin, these seraphs broke into the highest order with galvanized unity. This was a depiction of a bullfight done so vividly that for a moment I thought I was at once sitting in the sun. Jean Laurenz on trumpet was electrifying and thrilling in her solo runs. This number was ultimately a crescendo in the program that eclipsed the climax.

A Chuck Seipp arrangement of Claude Debussy’s famous flute piece “Clair de Lune” was played with deep emotion, yet having recently heard the flute version performed, I prefer the original flute tour-de-force showpiece.

They concluded with Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 where Hana Beloglavec on trombone was particularly effective. All on the same page, their bright horns brought the audience to its feet for an enthusiastic standing ovation. I think Liszt would have approved.

After the concert I had a brief, charming chat with Eugenia Zukerman, the Artistic Director of this new Hudson Hall music series. She’s also the Director of the Leaf Peeper Concert series that will be bringing more music to Dutchess County this summer. For more information on that series click here.