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Expressions: The Heart of the Tuba
Kerry TURNER (b. 1960) Sonatine for Tuba and Piano (1986): Allegro [3:52]; Hymn [3:54]; Allegro [3:09];
Four Duets: Introduction & Waltz [3:06]; Malaguena [3:34]; Intermezzo [2:48]; Trigger [2:27]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Adagio and Allegro transcribed by Kyle Turner [8:28]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Sonata No. 3 In E Major BWV 1016, Adagio ma non troppo transcribed by Kyle Turner [5:43]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990) One Hand, One Heart / Somewhere from West Side Story arranged by Walter Perkins [8:31]
John WILLIAMS (b. 1932) Irish Reel/Leaving Home, from Far and Away arranged by Tom Nelson [3:58]
Zequinha ABREU (1880-1935) Tico Tico arranged by Tom Nelson [3:00]
Vittorio MONTI (1868-1922) Czardas transcribed by Kyle Turner [4:33]
L. SUBRAMANIAN (1947-1996) Farewell to Manju from Salaam Bombay arranged by Tom Nelson [2:59]
Kyle Turner (tuba); Elizabeth DiFelice (piano); Joe Tomkins (percussion); Alan Baer (tuba).
rec. 24-26 January 2005, Theatre C, State University of New York. DDD
MSR CLASSICS MS1118 [60.01]

'Elegance', 'suppleness' and 'grace' may not be the first words that pass through your mind when thinking of the tuba. However, they are all qualities which it displays on this interesting disc by Kyle Turner, a former principal player of the New York Philharmonic. He is accompanied on the piano by Elizabeth DiFelice, who has also played with that orchestra. The analogy which springs to mind is of a fat man who turns out to be a graceful ballroom dancer, moving with surprising lightness considering his build.

Two of the works are by the soloist's brother, a composer and professional horn player. I cannot do better than to quote: 'If you are not familiar with Kerry Turner's music, you are in for a pleasant surprise. It is energetic. rhythmic, colourful, surprisingly tonal and enjoyable for players and audiences alike'.

Four of the works are transcriptions for tuba, having been composed originally for other instruments - two for cello, the Bach for violin - perhaps a more surprising transcription - and the Turner duets for two horns; the composer's own instrument. The other thematic connection between some of the works is that there are three pieces of music composed originally to accompany the cinema or the theatre: from West Side Story, Far and Away and Salaam Bombay respectively, Turner being 'a big fan of soundtrack music'.

The opening Sonatine was originally composed for the cello, as was the next work - by Schumann - but I agree with the performer himself when he says that it seems very effective on the tuba. There is a lively and pleasing dynamic contrast between the styles and tempos of the three sections, from brisk to dignified and back to a rapid pace. The second section, Hymn - a setting of 'Amazing Grace' is particularly lovely - my personal favourite track of the album - and does indeed lend itself well to this instrument. The interplay with the piano goes beyond the role of mere accompaniment and adds to the energy and rhythm of the music.

Schumann's piece was originally written for the horn, although it has since been transcribed for various other instruments. In this version a melancholic yearning of considerable beauty comes through clearly when, as here, the Adagio is heard in these lower registers, fully justifying the reference to expressiveness in the album's title. The Allegro initially takes the tempo sharply upwards, reminiscent of a foxtrot, a change handled with masterful effortlessness by the soloist. This is maintained until ending with a flourish of a coda which shows the colours of both players.

The Bach sonata is a more surprising transcription, given that there is a far greater difference from the register of the original instrument. It is slow, simple, rhythmical and precise. The piano part, originally written for harpsichord, is played in a way which reminds one of that origin and reflects a very crisp and exact approach from Ms DeFelice. I am not sure quite how much baroque music I would want to hear on the tuba personally, but it is an interesting perspective and a further demonstration of the versatility of repertoire a skilful player can bring to the instrument.

Turner describes the Bach as 'heartfelt' and the 'big-hearted' theme continues in the extract from Bernstein's West Side Story, which, as one might expect, works well in this arrangement. It is straightforward, pleasing and evocative. The piano is again good. This is heard especially in the opening into the second section of the arrangement, into which the first segues with admirable smoothness.

The Atlantic is then crossed for Williams' authentically Celtic-sounding Irish Reel, which is played with percussion, a combination which seems more familiar for a brass instrument. Perhaps around half way through it becomes a little too slow and risks losing its way then almost recovers.

There is then a return to the music of Kerry Turner with four short duets with fellow-tuba player Alan Baer. These encompass a range of style and pace. There is a careful interplay between the two instruments in a melodic and accessible musical style, which evokes something of the dance-floor. I particularly like the third movement, a slow yet jaunty intermezzo with a slight syncopation. However, perhaps like the film music, these seem less unfamiliar brass territory than the string transcriptions.

Percussion again joins the tuba in Tico Tico which introduces an up-tempo Latin rhythm. This makes one want to get up and dance. It swings along happily and I agree with Turner that it 'sounds great on tuba' - a real feel-good track.

The well known Czardas, here transcribed by the soloist, is performed with trade-mark expressiveness in addition to giving a sense of thorough competence and mastery of this specially transcribed version. The album closes with music to a leave-taking scene from the film Salaam Bombay, again expressive, this time of a deep melancholy. The Asian flavour is another aspect of the international selection of music presented on this wide-ranging album.

Although there are a relatively small number of compilation discs of tuba music available, this is perhaps the broadest in its mixture of repertoire. Also, unlike some of the others, this offers an up-to-date modern recording. Brief mention might be made of The Romantic Tuba on Crystal (CRYSTAL CD120) by Floyd Cooley which inter alia features Bach (as here) and Brahms and which also seeks to show an unexpected aspect of the instrument. That Crystal anthology is rather narrower in its scope than the present disc, as it seeks to show one unfamiliar aspect specifically rather than, as here, a range. That said, someone who enjoyed one might well enjoy the other. I would, in passing, mention the Naxos recording of British Tuba Concertos (8557554) for those who wish to widen their acquaintance with this instrument's repertoire. That collection includes the relatively well-known work by Vaughan Williams.

My main reservation about this enjoyable and interesting disc is that it might have a rather narrow target audience. The most obvious would be players and students of brass instruments. For them it offers opportunities to see the span and versatility this instrument is capable of in a wide-ranging repertoire, and to hear a talented performer in action. It may also be of interest to those interested in American music. Those who are devotees of traditional brass music may have rather a surprise, but I hope a pleasant one. I would commend this disc to any musically curious listener as one that well repays the listening time.

This well-recorded album provides a revealing insight into the possibilities of an instrument rarely heard solo. It shows a versatility going well beyond its typical role in the bass end of the brass section of an orchestra, brass or military band. I enjoyed Mr Tuner's playing and hope to hear more from him. I would also remark on the obviously good rapport between him and his piano accompanist; it is clearly a musical partnership that works well.

 

Julie Williams

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