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20th Century Concerti
John WILLIAMS (b.1932) Tuba Concerto (1985)
Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892 –1983) Harp Concertino (1928)
Henri TOMASI (1901 – 1971) Saxophone Concerto (1949)
Toshirō MAYUZUMI (1929 – 1997) Xylophone Concertino (1965)
Soloists; 1. Marc Easener, tuba 2. Gabriella Dall’olio, harp 3. Duncan Ashby, saxophone 4. Joanne May, xylophone. Foundation Philharmonic Orchestra/David Snell
Recorded in Air Lyndhurst Studios, London (no date)

This disc offers an enticing programme, but it turns out to be a rather disappointing ‘curate’s egg’ of an issue. First, there’s the music; the John Williams is attractive enough, and a useful addition to the tuba’s concerto repertoire, which consists of the Vaughan Williams Concerto, and…er that’s just about it! But I doubt if it would have made it into the catalogue so soon had it not been composed by a high-profile film composer like Williams. Its style could be described as mid-century English, with strong overtones of Walton and R.R.Bennett, plus the occasional incursion from Carmina Burana. However, the tuba writing seems deft and sympathetic.

Germaine Tailleferre was the only female member of Les Six, and was a famously self-effacing composer. There is much delightful music in this Harp Concertino, but Tailleferre rather loses sight of her soloist in the Rondo finale, and the ending is curiously unsatisfactory. The slow middle movement, however, is probably the best part, and there are some great tunes throughout. This may not be one of her very best works, but Tailleferre is a composer of enormous talent with a distinctive voice of her own.

Tomasi’s Saxophone Concerto of 1965 (presumably written for the alto as we hear it here, though the booklet doesn’t specify) is to me the most interesting and original in this collection, with disturbing reminiscences of Ravel’s La Valse, and effective exploitation of the saxophone’s shady character.

The Mayuzumi Xylophone Concertino is a real oddity, but enjoyable and entertaining enough. It contains an interesting blend of oriental flavours and jazzy elements, and many passages have a strongly Gershwinesque feel to them. The ending, however, as in the Tailleferre, simply does not work, and is fairly embarrassing in its triteness.

Then there are the performances. The soloists are on the whole excellent; Marc Easener is a superb tubist (though the booklet, which is deeply uninformative, doesn’t help by telling us, touchingly, that he gave the Romanian premiere of Tubby the Tuba!). Gabriella Dall’olio plays with great flair, as does the redoubtable xylophonist Jo May. Saxophonist Duncan Ashby has a great feeling for the style and character of the Tomasi, but is severely stretched by the technical demands. He only just makes it through some of the cadenza-like flourishes, with much accompanying clattering of straining keywork.

The greatest disappointment is the standard of the accompaniments. David Snell is an experienced and widely respected film music conductor, but seems ill at ease with his role here. There is much untidy ensemble, and some intonation (from woodwind in particular0 that is quite painful. The playing at the end of the Tailleferre is slack and unimaginative, and contributes to the generally poor impression made by the conclusion. In fact the whole CD has the feeling of a project that has foundered for lack of time; a couple more hours of orchestral rehearsal, a few more retakes in the Tomasi and the Williams, and some more meticulous tuning up would all have made a tremendous difference. A pity, because this is a fascinating compilation.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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