This was an outstanding concert. Five players, all firing on all four cylinders, impressed a big audience in the Memorial Hall with an exciting, varied and approachable programme.
The opening Suite in D by Jeremiah Clarke featured the classy trumpeters Paul Beniston and James Nash in some challenging bravura playing. There were some nicely varied dynamics in the second movement, with signs of high-level ensemble coordination and attention to detail throughout.
Elgar Howarth’s arrangement of music from the time of Henry VIII – Rose without a Thorn – was extremely engaging, the tuba player (David Kendall) producing some agile and well-balanced contributions to the performance. However, the highlight of the Henry VIII music for this listener was a breathtakingly beautiful and seamless transition between Mark Templeton on trombone and James Nash on flugel horn – something which may look fairly straightforward on the page, but is extremely difficult to achieve so flawlessly.
Four Little Pieces, by Ludwig Maurer, concluded the first half of the programme with some mid-nineteenth century music for brass quintet. The opening march was characterised by superbly well-integrated playing. This is very hard to achieve, as Maurer’s original instrumentation differs from that employed by a modern brass quintet. For instance, Maurer wrote the bass line for a bass trombone, rather than for today’s much larger-bore tuba. However, this challenge was again surmounted easily by David Kendall, who produced some beautifully well-balanced quasi pizzicato interjections. The fourth movement, which is not played very often these days, was short but exciting, and had something of the spirit of a triumphal march.
The second part of the programme began with Victor Ewald’s wonderful Symphony for Brass, otherwise known as his Brass Quintet no. 1, op.5, which is one of the pillars of the brass quintet repertoire. Ewald’s original scoring was for an ensemble of valved brass, with the fourth part written for tenor horn in Bb – roughly similar to a modern brass band euphonium or baritone. The rapid semiquaver arpeggios in the first movement, while fairly straightforward on such an instrument, are difficult on the trombone, which carries the fourth part in a modern quintet. Needless to say, the LPO’s Mark Templeton made this music seem easy. Facility was also in evidence in the central movement in 5/4, where the tempo changes were managed beautifully. The very Russian final movement was taken quite quickly, but the speed and mood were maintained as the music reached a spine-tingling triumphant conclusion.
Bill Holcombe’s arrangement for brass of Gershwin’s Three Preludes for piano solo was a lovely contrast with the Ewald, employing a jazzy idiom. The highlights of this were the expressive tuba solo in the middle movement, and some virtuosic rapid passages from Mark Vines on horn in the third movement.
The final piece in the programme was the Music Hall Suite by Joseph Horovitz. Mark Vines’s interesting introduction revealed that, some time ago, Joseph Horovitz had encouraged the quintet to play the first movement very steadily; Horovitz’s fairly slow tempo was followed in this performance, and made a great deal of sense for this listener. The comical effects in movement 4 also received the emphasis they require in a highly theatrical work of this kind.
Perhaps because this was a physically demanding concert for the players, there was no encore, although several encores were certainly deserved. This was a very fine performance, which many of the audience will remember for a long time.
Dr Mike Lomas
Lower Brass Teacher