As Philip Mead writes
in his introductory note, the works
on this CD represent some of the results
of a six year project to investigate
the possibilities of combining various
types of brass groups with solo piano.
True, there are several works for piano
and wind ensemble, such as Stravinsky’s,
Jongen’s and Durey’s concertos for piano
and wind ensemble, but there are actually
no such works for piano and brass, not
that I know of anyway. Unfortunately,
we are not told who were the composers
involved (I mean, other than those featured
here) and if there is any chance of
having some of the other works (if any)
to be recorded in a near future. Anyway,
judging from what is to be heard here,
their respective approach to the project
results in a pleasantly varied programme,
definitely out of the beaten track.
Nicholas Sackman is
a most distinguished composer whose
music is presently shamefully underrepresented
in the current catalogue; and reading
that Metier are to release a new disc
of some of his chamber music is good
news indeed. Meld, completed
in 1998, "attempts to establish
a network of harmonic, rhythmic and
timbral relationships between the piano
and an expanded orchestral bass ensemble"
(the composer’s words). Within the ensemble,
four players (marimba, vibraphone, harp
and timpani) feature prominently as
"shadows" of the piano, which
considerably enhances the variety of
dialogue between the piano and the brass
ensemble. The result is a compact, tightly
argued piano concerto, full of energy,
contrasts and imagination that clearly
deserves more than the occasional hearing.
A professional viola
player for many years, Diana Burrell
is now regarded as a composer of no
mean achievement. An earlier disc (ASV
CD DCA 977) has already given a good
idea of her compositional achievements;
but several major works still await
commercial recording. Gold
is scored for piano (and three gongs)
and a small brass ensemble consisting
of three trumpets, horn, two trombones
and tuba. As a result, textures are
generally lighter and brighter, with
telling interplay between "high"
brass (trumpets) and "low"
brass (horn, trombones and tuba). Sometimes,
too, the brass join for some more massive
episodes. The coherence of the music
is ensured by variations on a series
of chords and by being centred around
C. This is another brilliant and totally
convincing piece that repays repeated
hearings, and clearly a most welcome
addition to Burrell’s present discography.
But I am still looking forward to hearing
more of her music soon.
Geoffrey Poole’s Lucifer,
subtitled a Concerto for Piano and 21
Loud Instruments, is in four movements
and, by far, the weightiest piece here.
(Incidentally, the other loud instruments
here are a saxophone quartet.) The first
movement Lucifer was composed
in 2000 and performed as such that year.
The other movements were added some
time later in 2001. the composer notes
that the audience ("largely assembled
for composer Philip Sparke") seemed
to have been rather surprised by the
power, vehemence and the many harmonic
and rhythmic twists of the music. ("I
swear that some were searching for their
crucifixes", says the composer.)
In fact, the music of the entire work
often opposes some jazzy or popular
accents to more stringent writing with
a refreshing lack of inhibition. This
is to be heard quite clearly in the
final movement New Babylon, actually
some sort of urban Toccata in which
such jazzy episodes brutally clash with
more violent, energetic episodes. On
the whole, Poole’s music may be somewhat
more eclectic than that of Sackman and
Burrell; but it is – in this piece anyway
– colourful and full of energy.
Philip Mead, who initiated
this very worthwhile and interesting
project, plays superbly throughout,
and the RNCM Brass Ensemble joins in
most heartily. Excellent recording and
production, up to NMC’s best standards.
Well worth trying, and quite rewarding.