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Portraits in Brass
Alexander ARUTUNIAN (b. 1920)
Trumpet Concerto in A flat major (1950) [18:38]
Ferdinand DAVID (1810-1873)
Concertino for Trombone in E flat major Op. 4 (1837) [15:12]
Huug STEKETEE (b.1959)
Portraits [15:27]
Edward GREGSON (b.1945)
Concerto for French Horn and Brass Band (1971) [17:08]
Huug STEKETEE (b. 1959)
For Four and Jean-Baptiste – Quartet Piece [2:41]
Peter Masseurs (trumpet); Timothy Dowling (trombone); Huug Steketee (cornet); Jasper de Waal (French horn)
Hepworth (Lanson Homes) Brass Band/Mark Bentham
rec. Morley Town Hall, 27-28 January 2007; Royal Conservatoire, The Hague, 25 February 2007 (Jean-Baptiste). DDD
PROJECT AUDIO C12327 [69:08]



This is the second CD that Dutch trumpet and cornet virtuoso Huug Steketee has produced under the name of his own recording company, Project Audio. The first, Shining Waters, focused on Steketee as composer and performer in a programme that featured his own compositions and arrangements exclusively. One of the delights of that first recording was not only the playing of Steketee himself but that of his colleague Peter Masseurs, the principal trumpet player of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. It is good to see that on this latest disc Masseurs figures again, this time with the more challenging and mouth-watering prospect of the well known Trumpet Concerto of Armenian, Alexander Arutunian.
 
Into the bargain we also get contributions from two other good friends of Huug Steketee, fellow Netherlander and French Horn player Jasper de Waal and Australian trombonist Timothy Dowling. Despite his antipodean origins, Dowling is something of an adopted Dutchman given that he has been resident in the country since 1988 when he took up the position of principal trombone with the Residentie Orchestra in The Hague.
 
For anyone who knows the Arutunian Trumpet Concerto well and has the sound of trumpet and orchestra firmly in mind it might just take a little getting used to the sound of the brass band accompaniment as given here. Steketee’s arrangement however, prepared specifically for this recording, is effective and ably pulled off by Mark Bentham and the Hepworth (Lanson Homes) Band. As for Masseurs himself, trumpet players do not come with a much higher pedigree than principal at the Concertgebouw. The quality of the solo playing is evident from the opening bars in crystalline clarity of articulation and a brilliant sound. Masseurs colours the sound with consummate skill in the contrasting sections that follow later in the work. Stylistically he is very much his own man and listening alongside a recording of the work by the young Russian virtuoso Sergei Nakariakov, the Dutchman clearly takes a more conventionally “European” line, both in terms of his interpretation and sound, yet there is nothing lost in excitement whilst the refinement of the playing never falters. The not-to-be-missed highlight is the cadenza that comes shortly before the conclusion of the work. It was written for this recording by Dutch composer Theo Verbey (b. 1959). Masseurs despatches the technical fireworks with almost disarming ease.
 
No less impressive is Timothy Dowling in his performance of the Concertino for Trombone by Ferdinand David. A pupil of Louis Spohr and acquaintance of Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, David is little known other than for this one work. It’s the closest the trombone repertoire comes to a genuine “classical” concerto in the strictest sense of the word. Dowling is something of a specialist in baroque and period performance and there is an immediate sense of his stylistic ease in music that would not come naturally to every trombonist. Dowling’s sound is surprisingly English in tone, a sign perhaps of his early upbringing in Australian brass bands, whilst the artistry is faultless. The band too deserves credit for its sensitive accompaniment which is always dynamically aware and carefully shaped by the conductor.
 
Huug Steketee’s contribution is a substantial fifteen minute work of his own. Portraits takes the form of a series of contrasting episodes, easy on the ear and tinged with affection and a hint of nostalgia in its fireside reflections of childhood and people lost but not forgotten. It’s an attractive piece, clearly with personal resonances for composer and soloist, whose playing glows with the warmth of the underlying sentiment. Steketee’s lyrical playing - as in his first CD Shining Waters - is a textbook model. It perhaps bears testimony to his own long term immersion in the Arban cornet method, a textbook of almost biblical status to many generations of trumpet and cornet players.
 
Edward Gregson’s effervescent Concerto for French Horn and Brass Band dates from the early 1970s, a time when the composer’s interest in writing for the brass band was at its highest peak. It’s a work that has been recorded several times by a number of fine soloists including Frank Lloyd and Ifor James. Jasper de Waal stands with the best of them, notably in the affecting central Andante Cantabile, beautifully and atmospherically captured with some melting sounds from both soloist and band. The exuberance and joie de vivre of the outer movements is due in no small measure to the contribution of the band. The soloist’s admirably controlled playing allows the natural warmth of the instrument to shine with nothing sacrificed in terms of excitement.
 
Retailing at around six pounds this is a CD that is just about as good as it gets when it comes to value, especially when in the company of brass musicians as talented as Huug Steketee and friends. The names of the soloists might not be immediately familiar in the UK but it is to be hoped that, with the help of this introduction, there might be more yet to come from Project Audio.
 
One final word for the fleeting encore number that rounds the disc off in a little over two and a half minutes. For Four and Jean-Baptiste is another nod towards Steketee’s beloved Arban, being based on one of the studies from his “Cornet Method”. Bringing the four soloists together in a miniature showcase, I defy anyone to listen to this delightful little quartet without it bringing a smile to the face.               
 
Christopher Thomas
 



 


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