Three Recordings by Don Johnson, with President Lincoln's Own Band and Kentucky Baroque Trumpets

 

Don Johnson and the Kentucky Baroque Trumpets. Music for Trumpets, Strings, and Organ from Before 1700. http://kybaroquetrumpets.com/index.html

Recorded in Fairchild Chapel, at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, June 2013. The music on this CD is performed in meantone temperament; the chapel organ, opus 25 by John Brombaugh, employs a split-key keyboard to facilitate this tuning. 

Don Johnson and President Lincoln’s Own Band. The Gettysburg Address: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Milan Records M2-36699, 2015. www.milanrecords.com

Don Johnson and President Lincoln’s Own Band. President Lincoln’s Own Band. http://kybaroquetrumpets.com/index.html

These three CDs represent some of the fine recent work by Don Johnson and his colleagues. The Kentucky Baroque Trumpets recording of seventeenth-century music is a very fine effort. They are ably assisted by guest artists Friedemann Immer and John Foster. The program is a mix of some of the “greatest hits” of the natural trumpet repertoire as well as some lesser known compositions. The sonatas a’ 10 and a’ 7 by Christian Friederick Witt (1660–1716) embody the glorious sound of natural trumpets and the Kentucky trumpets are supported by a fine Baroque string ensemble and Steve Plank’s wonderful organ playing. These works, from about 1695, are a welcome addition to the repertoire.  A more familiar work of this syle and equally performed is the Sonata No. 332 by Cesare Bendinelli. Getting to hear a number of the anonymous duets from the Modena collection of 1690 played by the likes of Immer, Foster, and Johnson is a real treat. John Foster exhibits beautiful and delicate playing on Sonata No. 1 by Giovanni Bonaventura Viviani (1638–93) and is equally matched by Friedemann Immer’s performance of the Sonata No. 2 a’ 4 by Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky (1633–93). Steve Plank again displayed his wonderful musicianship on three passagalli for solo organ by Giovanni Battista Ferrini (1601–74). The closing work on this fine recording is a vibrant work, but not a common piece on most natural trumpet programs. The Sonata a’ 10 by Anton Thomas Albertini (1660-1734) is brilliantly performed by the Kentucky Baroque Trumpets.

The opportunity to appear and play in Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln” was undoubtedly like catching the brass ring for Don Johnson and his other fine ensemble, President Lincoln’s Own Band. That fortunate acting/performing opportunity led to their recording of the soundtrack from the movie “The Gettysburg Address”. They performed nine nineteenth-century works for brass ensemble on this CD of the motion picture soundtrack. The ensemble plays with precision and good intonation, not an easy feat given the notoriously difficult original brass instruments.  The liner notes give fascinating information about the pieces, often detailing at what occasions they were played when Lincoln was present. The works played were “Hail Columbia”, “The Union March”, “Bonnie Blue Flag”, “The Battle Cry of Freedom”, “We are Coming, Father Abraham”, “Consecration Dirge”, “Dixie”, and “Abide with Me”.  Don Johnson performs first E-flat cornet and E-flat keyed bugle in outstanding fashion. Of particular note was his virtuosic rendition on the solo section of “Dixie”. Interestingly, “Dixie”, while now thought of the anthem of the Confederacy, was written long before the Civil War by a New Yorker. Lincoln was evidently very fond of the tune and he requested that it be played at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. While certainly a stroke of good fortune for Don Johnson and his wonderful ensemble, they made good on the opportunity producing some memorable renditions of those nineteenth-century pieces.

In a more recent independently produced CD Johnson again leads President Lincoln’s Own Band in a selection of 17 glorious works from the Civil War era. Some of the works on this CD include, “Abide with Me”, “Bonnie Blue Flag”, “Glory Hallelujah”, “Hail Columbia”, “Hail to the Chief”, “Battle Cry of Freedom”, “Yankee Doodle.” It is interesting to hear the original versions of some of these tunes, many of which are still performed but have subtly changed over the years.  Don Johnson and his fine ensemble perform this repertoire with great skill, enthusiasm and musicality.

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum

[Editor's note: the first and third recordings are not available except by making arrangements though email at kybaroquetrumpets@windstream.net]