Brass Day 1

Fanfare ‘Ziggurat’ [BBC commission: world premiere]
Orfeo – Toccata
G. Gabrieli
Sonata pian’e forte
Sacri concentus ac symphoniae – Canzon terza

Traditional Uzbek Music

Vaughan Williams
Overture ‘Henry V’
Ragtimes and Habaneras
Toccata Oh The Blessed Lord
… Dove Descending
Severn Suite, Op.87
Mussorgsky arr. Elgar Howarth
Pictures at an Exhibition

Musicians from the Royal Northern College of Music; Musicians from the Birmingham Conservatoire; Members of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra [Bingham & Mussorgsky]
His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts [Monteverdi, Gabrieli & Grillo]

Musicians from Uzbekistan

Grimethorpe Colliery Band
Black Dyke Band

André de Ridder [Bingham]
Allan Withington [Vaughan Williams & Henze]
Nicholas Childs [Heaton, Wilby & Elgar]
Håkan Hardenberger [Mussorgsky]

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 28 July, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

In 2005 the BBC Proms season had “Violins!!” and last year it was “The Voice”. In 2007 it was “Brass Day”. This afternoon’s concert was a rather long affair that by the end was very hard work, and not producing the results one would wish for.

Things got off to a promising start with Judith Bingham’s new Fanfare. The subject seemed rather trite (the idea was that the soaring and delving notes represent looking up at and down from the giant and famed ziggurat Etemenanki) but as an opener the piece hit all the right points. Curiously, the players played this from a stage in the middle of the Arena.

His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts produces a superb sound for the music of Monteverdi and others. A sagbutt is similar to a trombone but it has a smaller bell and produces a gentler sound. The sound of the cornetts was like a loud flute. The programme note described a part of Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sonata pian’e forte as “blazing with sound”. Perhaps – by turn-of-the-seventeenth-century standards. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable and the Grillo seemed to exemplify what is typical about the music of this period: the very clever way in which lines of melody and chromatic detail interweave to work their hypnotic magic. Throughout, the care and attention given to these pieces by the players was evident.

The Uzbek music was very loud and piercing – many members of the audience had to cover their ears. The pieces heard here could be thought of as fanfares. The karnay is a longer version of the trumpet. From the stage in the Arena four were played simultaneously and in all directions: the choreography was impressive and the Hall’s natural echo added to the sonic power. The ear-piercing nog’ora (a small kettle drum) was then played with the karnays and the sequence of loud fanfares continued for about fifteen minutes. This would be much better outdoors!

The traditional melody from the end of Vaughan Williams’s Henry V overture was also used by Walton in Olivier’s film, but the music is from decade earlier. It was all pretty rousing stuff, with some exciting scales. Henze wrote Ragtimes and Habaneras for Grimethorpe Colliery Band thirty years ago. It is a series of dance-like tunes, and very danceable a few seemed here, particularly the opening number. The performance highlighted the music’s elusive qualities and an increase of tempo at the close carried away the piece perfectly.

Black Dyke Band showed itself to be a capable ensemble in Heaton’s Toccata. The delicacy of the scoring was well brought out on the trumpets and was lovingly played overall. There was a grander quality of sound in Wilby’s … Dove Descending with a great solo from one of the cornet players, though the euphonium solo was disappointing, with very little power or presence. The end came in a blaze of fire.

Elgar’s Severn Suite is a competition test piece, and both brass bands performed it. Some of the piece’s characteristic pomposity came through, bringing a smile.

The most disappointing music was the arrangement for brass, by Elgar Howarth, of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The arrangement does not allow the colour and texture of the piece to come through. Still, there were faults with the playing, such as an inability to produce the right tone or notes. Each of the ‘Promenade’ sequences sounded the same. The two final pieces, ‘The Hut on Fowl’s Legs’ and ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ proved uninteresting. One might well ask how this is possible.

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