Five home-grown young brass players
here, performing a disc of what could be described as ‘lollipops’ or ‘encores’.
Easy listening, yes, but good music nonetheless, so that
the CD could and should appeal to a wide and varied market.
The playing is of a genuinely high standard,
and invites comparison with the finest groups around,
such as Chaconne Brass in this country, or Center City Brass
and Canadian Brass across the Atlantic. The principal trumpet,
Giles Fowler is an exceptional player, as I can confirm
heard him give a stunning account of the Haydn concerto
in Hampshire recently - with a fine orchestra and world-class
conductor let it be said. If he’s the ‘stand-out’ player,
that is rather inevitable, given the nature of the pieces.
But he is ably supported by his colleagues, who all have
their moments to shine.
If the issue is not in the absolutely top
bracket, that’s down to occasional small lapses in the ensemble,
one or two rather pedestrian tracks, and also some of the
arrangements, which don’t quite come up to scratch. On
the other hand, some of these are very good indeed; Bohemian
Rhapsody, for example, is highly successful as far
as it goes, though, having heard many arrangements of
farrago, both vocal and instrumental, I’ve come to the conclusion
that the absence of the great Freddie Mercury himself exposes
the music’s flimsiness rather mercilessly, however good
Sousa’s Washington Post is the least
successful track – a rather dull and clumsy arrangement which
the group respond to with their least lively performance.
The recording of this number has a more distant perspective,
too, which robs the sound of some of its immediacy. Fortunately,
everything is back to the best with the Gershwin Prelude
that follows - a splendid tuba solo in the middle section.
The only original brass quintet piece on
the disc is the miniature suite Five Towns; but it
really is disappointing that there is nothing about
the composer to be found on the case or in the extremely
brief liner notes. No Christian name, no initial, no
dates, let alone any biographical information. Searching
I eventually came up with the initial ‘M’ in a catalogue
of brass music, but that’s all I could manage, folks!
Come on, London Independent, you can do better than that,
when these five character pieces are such appealing and
Londonderry Air has been arranged by the
tuba, Rich Fox. Actually, this is much more than an arrangement;
it’s a fairly extended fantasy on the famous tune. It’s an
ambitious piece of work, and, for this listener at any rate,
a brave attempt that doesn’t quite come off. Interesting
and skilful all the same, and played with deep feeling.
Porgy and Bess, arranged by trombonist
Stephen Thompson, is by far the longest item on the disc,
is more fantasy than arrangement. This time, however,
it works really well, and there are some delicious sections,
such as the convincingly raunchy ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ -
despite a few moments of untidy ensemble - and the lazy trombone
solo for ‘Bess, you is my woman now’.
That Berkeley Square nightingale gets lovingly
straightforward treatment - despite the spelling mistake
on the back of the case - and William Tell gallops with
gusto. The Bach Air features, as elsewhere, the flügel playing of
Matthew Wells, and creamily beautiful it is. Rich Fox’s ‘pizzicato’ tuba
down in the bass is worthy of mention too. The disc is
rounded off with a spirited Amazing Grace, Giles
Fowler letting his hair down in an outrageously jazzy
giddily from one end of the instrument to the other,
and full of glissandos, flutter-tonguing and some genuinely ‘dirty’ sounds – great
After first hearings of this disc at home,
it kept me very happy on a long and otherwise tedious car
journey. These are gifted musicians who clearly enjoy making
music together, and have an infectious sense of fun. Any
chance, I wonder, of hearing them in some more substantial
repertoire now? I hope so!