Have you ever seen
an elephant dance the ballet? Can you
imagine such a thing being done with
grace, elegance, exuberance, and skill?
Perhaps at the end of the dance, the
elephant changed into its tuxedo and
split a bottle of wine over a delightful
dessert as well.
This might seem a ridiculous
reinterpretation of Disney’s classic
Fantasia, or the beginning of a somewhat
long-winded joke. If so, you understand
the skepticism and trepidation with
which I approached Tuba Carnival, the
latest disc by Øystein Baadsvik.
Surely, I thought, I was not expected
to take a collection of both traditional
and modern symphonic works rearranged
for solo tuba seriously, was I? After
all, while I have heard some virtuosic
performances on the tuba, they mostly
were done somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
The Canadian Brass’s "Flight of
the Tuba Bee", while somewhat amazing,
is not really a serious work after all.
The first track on
this CD did little to change my opinion,
though it was interesting. Baadsvik
wrote the work himself to highlight
his multiphonic capabilities (the ability
to sing and play a wind instrument at
the same time) and to show the experimental
side of the tuba. Many of the sounds
are very interesting, and reminiscent
of didgeridoo recordings by David Hudson.
However, while the work is interesting
and entertaining, it was again a virtuosic
novelty piece: something both good and
enjoyable, but not really moving or
However, the rest of
this CD was something quite different.
The tuba beautifully highlighted as
a solo instrument in ways that one would
not expect. Its depth and warmth of
tone reminded me time and again of the
best vocal baritones. This music is
not a joke: the modern works take full
advantage of what I soon realized was
a horribly underutilized instrument,
capable of so much more than the traditional
works would lead us to believe. No oom-pah
polkas would find their way here: instead
the listener finds a rich lyricism exploring
the works of Vivaldi and Grieg. The
arrangements by both Øystein
Baadsvik and his wife Anna are fine
examples of the best of musical reinvention.
The original works for tuba by Plau
and Stevens prove that the tuba is not
only a viable solo instrument, but a
fairly magnificent one. The acrobatic
displays amount to an elephant pirouetting
gracefully, and then showing the refinement
and class to join you for a nice bottle
of wine and desert.
If you are a tuba player
yourself, you cannot pass on this album:
it simply must be in your collection.
If you are not, this is a good album,
and a very pleasant surprise, worthy
of any collection.