CBSO Brass Concert review


CBSO at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham ★★★★★

"A masterpiece...fiendish...Paganini for valved instruments", was how CBSO trombonist Anthony Howe described Sir Malcolm Arnold's Symphony for Brass to us. Arnold knew brass playing at first hand, as the London Philharmonic's principal trumpet. This four-movement work combines his familiar fluency with great technical sophistication. He surely wore an impish grin when composing the finale's fugue. Arnold, like his musical idol Mahler, often put popular and profound together to disconcerting effect. Arnold begins the third movement in film score mode but then splices in an ominous Wagnerian descending figure. Was that Wotan's spear? The CBSO's eleven players rose to all its challenges: the opening flashes and scintillations; the high-lying staccato lines really pinged out; the aching, melancholy opening of the allegretto for two trumpets. The concluding contrapuntal complexities were despatched with elan, with conductor Michael Seal ensuring upmost clarity.

The concert began with a crisp and rousing performance of Bliss's A Wedding Fanfare, composed for Princess Margaret's nuptials in1960. Brass band's have bred incredibly skilful players – including two of the CBSO brass players – and Holst's A Moorside Suite and John Ireland's A Downland Suite were written for them. These pastoral pieces elicited characterful playing, the CBSO players relishing Holst's Scherzo with its galumphing hobnailed rustic dance. Ireland's beloved Sussex Downs inspired his suite – the bracing breeze almost palpable in the energico opening movement. The expanded ensemble – with four horns plus percussion – gave a finely calibrated performance of Ireland's Elgarian Elegy, plaintive but flowing, not the dirge it's sometimes made to be.

Norman Stinchcombe


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