Recording Review: Table for Three

Table for Three is a brand new recording from Summit Records featuring three very prominent figures in the world of brass playing – John Ericson (horn), Douglas Yeo (bass trombone), and Deanna Swoboda (tuba). All three are members of the brass faculty at Arizona State University, with distinguished careers as performers and educators. The album contains an eclectic mix of solo and ensemble music, with an emphasis on recently commissioned and arranged works for the trio of horn, bass trombone, and tuba. Brass trio recordings tend to be pretty rare, with one challenge being assembling enough repertoire to make for an interesting and marketable album. The artists on Table for Three have certainly met that challenge, and the result is a really great recording! I have some specific comments about the album, but first here is a list of what’s on it. The asterisks indicate works which were commissioned by or written for the artists.

  • Elizabeth Raum, Relationships*
  • Louis Moreau Gottschalk/arr. Ron Geese, The Dying Poet
  • Anton Reicha/arr. John Ericson, Suite of Trios from Op. 82 and Op. 93 (2 Suites)
  • John Harmon, Silhouette for Tuba and Piano
  • Vaclav Nelhybel/adapted by Douglas Yeo, Trio for English Horn, Viola, and Tuba
  • William Schmidt, Sonatina
  • J.S. Bach/arr. Ralph Lockwood, Wenn Sorgen, auf mich Dringen
  • Benjamin McMillan, Fleeting Visions*
  • Heinrich Isaac/trans. Kenneth Singleton, Three Pieces
  • Paul Ferguson, Table for Three at Chez Janou*

Drawing upon a wide variety of styles, the works recorded here represent approximately 500 years of Western music history, from Renaissance through present day. The performers are more than equipped to meet the challenges of reproducing these various styles, doing it all with ease, sensitivity, and great sounds – both individually and as an ensemble. Though there are many positive things I could say about Table for Three, here is what struck me most about the album upon my first hearing – and which was later confirmed on repeated listening.

  • Ensemble Blend, Balance, and Precision: If you haven’t heard this particular combination of brass instruments before, you will probably be surprised by the agility and flexibility it’s capable of in the hands of great players. The overall timbre tends toward the lower, “darker” end of the spectrum simply because of the instrumentation, but there are plenty of exciting moments with just the right amount of “sizzle” in the sound. The ensemble playing is a model of precision and sensitivity, with spot-on intonation. Each player is adept at matching the style, phrasing, and articulations of the other members.
  • Reicha Trios Work Well for Lots of Different Instruments: Among the highlights of this album for me are the two suites from the horn trios, Op. 82 and 93 of Anton Reicha. Long a favorite of horn players, these works by one of Beethoven’s friends – and direct contemporaries – are delightful, and John Ericson’s arrangements for horn, bass trombone, and tuba work very well. The trio plays these pieces with a warm, rich sound, but with plenty of energy. Another suite of these trios exists in an arrangement by Bill Holcombe for trumpet, horn, and trombone. Though the overall timbre is different, the “high brass” version is also very effective.
  • Chamber Music is What You Make of It: An underlying theme of this album – as mentioned in the liner notes – is that chamber music is a wonderfully rewarding way to get to know your musical colleagues, and to explore (and create) repertoire that might otherwise be ignored. The musical material you choose is of course important, but with the right people, virtually any combination of instruments can be developed into an engaging and inspiring ensemble. Table for Three is a perfect example of the artistic potential of a non-conventional ensemble, and is highly recommended!
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