All-woman Norwegian brass ensemble plays dazzling

Four trumpets, four trombones, a horn and a tuba. All of them played by women. That’s the unusual formula adopted by tenThing, a group of Norwegians who brought their particular brand of entertainment to Minneapolis’ Aria on Thursday evening for a Schubert Club concert.

For those who think that classical concerts are stuffy affairs, hooked on staid formality, tenThing is a stream of living water. The prelude from Grieg’s Holberg Suite burbled with vivacity, the repeated note patterns revealing a group of players with technical chops to die for.

Another treat? They moved around the platform, ringing the visual changes in response to musical mood shifts. In Grieg’s “Gjendine’s Lullaby,” two of the players knelt as though serenading a slumbering baby.

For Grieg’s “March of the Trolls,” they rotated in circles, using the full depth of the platform to create distancing effects, making the eventual rip and snort of trombone trolling all the more effective.

TenThing is led, but in no way dominated by, internationally renowned trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, who founded the ensemble in Norway 10 years ago. Although Helseth mainly operates in the band as first among equals, she inevitably gets her solo moments. Two in particular stood out. In “Summer” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” she brought a jazzy, New Orleans-style swagger to the opening movement, hitting a bluesy vibe for the central Adagio.

Vivaldi’s music took on fascinating new refractions, its overfamiliarity dissolving like morning mist. The bright gleam of brass instruments snapped the composer’s daring and inventiveness into pristine focus.

Helseth’s other main moment came in Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion.” She soloed in both verses of the famous tango — once with mute attached to her trumpet, once without. Her performance, rapt and deeply melancholy, temporarily suspended the sense of time passing, and held a packed audience enraptured.

Choreography kicked in again in tenThing’s giddy romp through Bizet’s opera “Carmen.” Strutting across the stage, pointing their instruments at different angles, the players pushed the tempos to the verge of parody, and had you blinking at their collective virtuosity.

A word about the arrangements: They are all done by Norwegian guitarist Jarle Storløkken, and all are bursting with wit and individuality.

Somehow, too, Storløkken’s arrangements manage to bring out the femininity of tenThing’s playing. To put it simply, this particular group of 10 players does not sound the way 10 male brass players would. Ten­Thing’s is a nimbler, more balletic style of brass playing, softer and more collegial in the players’ interactions.

These qualities made the band’s roguish take on Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” (another slam-dunk Storløkken arrangement) a thing of unadulterated pleasure.

I had a French horn honking in my ear for most of it as players mingled with the audience at floor level, and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Terry Blain writes about classical music and theater.

(startribune)