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British Tuba Concertos
Edward GREGSON (b. 1945)
Tuba Concerto (1978) [18:52]
Roger STEPTOE (b. 1953)
Tuba Concerto (1983) [14:49]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Tuba Concerto in F minor (1954) [12:54]
John GOLLAND (1946-1993)
Tuba Concerto Op. 46 (1980s) [17:41]
James Gourlay (tuba)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
rec. 3-5 Jan 2004, Phoenix Sound, Wembley. DDD
NAXOS 8.557754 [64:15]

 

Edward Gregson is a versatile and gifted composer, whose wide-ranging, consistently fine output is now reasonably well represented in the commercial catalogue. He has also made a considerable reputation with his many often innovative, superbly crafted works for brass band and wind band. I have always had a soft spot for his splendid Connotations for brass, probably the first piece of his that I ever heard. The inclusion here of his fine Tuba Concerto is doubly justified, since the first movement briefly alludes to Vaughan Williams’ concerto by way of homage to what must have been the first tuba concerto by any British composer. Gregson’s Tuba Concerto, originally composed with brass band, also exists in a version with wind band (once available on Caprice CAP 21414) and one with orchestra. It is a very enjoyable work in which the soloist has many opportunities to display agility and musicality, particularly so in the beautiful slow movement.

It is good to have the opportunity to hear a substantial work by Roger Steptoe. Collectors probably remember a pair of long-deleted LPs of chamber music and songs released by Phoenix in 1981 and 1982, as well as a more recent CD including his Elegy on the Death of Cock Robin (Meridian CDE 84158). His Tuba Concerto is a rather more serious affair than any of the other works here, although none of them is by any means slight or derivative. Steptoe’s twelve-tone writing is often harmonically tense and comparatively austere, though never rebarbative. Quite the contrary, for the music is strongly expressive all the way through. The slow movement contains some of Steptoe’s finest music. Here is a composer whose music has been overlooked for too many long years. This superb performance of his utterly serious, but attractive Tuba Concerto could well renew interest in his varied output.

I suppose that I need not go into many details concerning Vaughan Williams’ delightful Tuba Concerto in F minor. It always seems to me to be a musical portrait of my favourite Shakespearean character, Falstaff. Surely, the slow movement is Falstaff surrounded by the fairies in Windsor Forest.

This most desirable release ends with another nice rarity, John Golland’s beautiful Tuba Concerto Op.46. It’s a work new to me and it came as a minor revelation, although I knew some of Golland’s music before. It is a colourful piece with many fine touches of effective scoring and full of melodic charm. The slow movement is a beautifully atmospheric, exquisitely scored Nocturne. Undoubtedly, one of the real gems in this release.

James Gourlay’s musicality, agility and firm tone are a joy from first to last. Sutherland and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia partner him most sympathetically.

Make no mistake: these pieces are all remarkably well-made and quite serious. Forget about Tubby the Tuba, for this is music-making of the highest quality. I hope that all concerned will join forces again for another such release with other British tuba concertos. I know of Gordon Jacob’s Suite, but there may be others and I would not be surprised if there was one by Alan Ridout. In short, a most desirable and lovely disc in every respect.

Hubert Culot

see also Review by Christopher Thomas

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