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Tormod Flaten - Norwegian Euphonium


Edvard GRIEG arr. Aamodt

Ved Rundarne



Craig FARR

Sonata de Camera

Traditional/Knut BUEN arr. Giske

I Himmelen


Euphonium Concerto

Sigvart DAGSLAND arr. Rydland


Ermanno PICCHI / Simone MANTIA arr. Antrobus

Fantaisie Originale

Tormod Flaten (euphonium)
Eikanger-Bjørsvik Bands/Reid Gilje
Bergen Symphonic Band/Martin Winter
rec. St. Pauls, Huddersfield, 22-23 March 2005 and Biskopshavn Kirke, Bergen, 23-24 September 2005. DDD
DOYEN DOY CD190 [72:38]

There was a time in the recent past when the idea of a "foreign" brass band beating a British band in competition was inconceivable. How those times have changed. The Norwegians have been at the forefront of European brass banding for some time now and Eikanger-Bjørsvik Band in particular has carved out a formidable reputation for itself. Tormod Flaten is Eikangerís principal euphonium player, this being his second solo CD release.

If there is a sphere in which Norway can lay claim to be one step ahead of bands in the UK it is in the area of programming. There is no fear of the new. Both concerts and recordings are constructed around widely diverse musical genres. Grieg and Norwegian folk and pop music can sit comfortably alongside more adventurous contemporary repertoire with the result often being a real breath of fresh Norwegian forest air.

It is a point that Tormod Flaten demonstrates to telling effect. A good deal of the arranging talent is Norwegian home grown yet despite the apparent stylistic gulf between the works included, the journey for the listener is never less than fascinating and makes for an exceptionally satisfying musical experience. Think of the old analogy of the three course meal, a tasty appetizer with the meat course in the middle and a sweet to finish and you wonít be too far from the overall effect.

The meat in the middle is without doubt provided by Martin Ellerbyís substantial and hugely taxing Euphonium Concerto. This is a big-boned work in every sense, cast in four contrasting movements, each of which is a tour de force in its own right with an extended slow movement that is clearly the emotional heart of the work. Ellerbyís own lucid and comprehensive programme notes on each movement are reproduced in the accompanying booklet and are well worth reading prior to an initial listen. Flatenís enthusiasm for the work is in evidence throughout, his playing a model of technical excellence with stunning clarity of articulation matched by real artistry and musicality in the rhapsodic slow movement. Given that Ellerby places almost equal technical demands on the band it would be unfair not to mention the sterling assistance provided by Eikanger who are quite simply exemplary in their accompaniment. The composer acknowledges a quote from Joseph Horovitzís fine Euphonium Concerto in the third movement (Ellerby was a one time student of Horovitz) although itís an entertaining task to pick up on the other fleeting glimpses that often fly by at speed in the remaining three movements, amongst them Philip Sparke, Edward Gregson and perhaps more surprisingly William Walton, particularly in the opening Fantasy.

The name of American David Gillingham may not be overly familiar to European audiences although he has written extensively for wind ensemble as well as various other genres. Flatenís choice of Gillinghamís Vintage to open the disc could be considered slightly surprising given the workís restrained opening although the shrewdness of his decision soon comes through as the work develops into a substantial and melodically appealing showpiece. This is one of three works with accompaniment provided by the excellent Bergen Symphonic Band under Martin Winter and once again, Flaten is the master of the demands placed on him. Take a listen to the extended two and a half minute cadenza towards the end of the work and you will soon find yourself marvelling at Flatenís abilities. Itís highly enjoyable stuff and it would be good to hear it taken up by other master practitioners of the instrument with brass band accompaniment.

The other most substantial piece on offer musically is Craig Farrís Sonata de Camera, scored for solo euphonium with percussion accompaniment provided by Farr himself. Here we head into a more adventurous contemporary soundworld of angular lines that eventually soften into gentler lyricism at the heart of the piece. Farr and Flaten are close friends and no doubt worked closely together during the composition of the piece. It tells in that Flatenís ease with the language is effortless, the mark of a musician of true flexibility.

Whilst the remaining pieces are more accessible in terms of style, they are no less well chosen as vehicles for Flatenís musicality and virtuosity. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of Edvard Grieg to the Norwegian nation with Bergen able to lay claim to having brought up the nationís most famous musical son. The touchingly appealing and well known melody of Ved Rundarne is a homage to the beauty of the Rondane National Park and comes from the same cycle of songs as the more often heard Last Spring. Flatenís response to the nuances of the gentle melody is clear, as is the quality and control of his sustained playing. Frode Thingnæsís Daydream provides an excursion into the gentler side of jazz, whilst I Himmelen (In Heaven) is a traditional Norwegian hymn tune treated to a sensitive and imaginative arrangement by Svein Giske. It is matched by euphonium playing of equal sensitivity.

Although Tormod Flaten describes Sigvart Dagslandís Michelangelo as a pop song in his booklet note it is not perhaps what we in the UK would categorize in that particular genre. Indeed to do so would be to understate the quality of the melodic invention. Reflective yet simple in nature, this is another piece that works well for the lyrical side of Flatenís personality, contrasting dramatically with Ellerby and Picchi that lie either side of it on the disc. The melodic material of the Fantaisie is thought to be the work of Italian Picchi, although it was Simone Mantia, one-time trombonist in Sousaís band, not to mention the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, who made the piece famous on his double-bell euphonium. Itís a barnstormer of an Air Varié. One can only marvel at the player Mantia must have been if he came even close to the skills that Tormod Flaten displays here.

In terms of repertoire this is one of the most intelligently put together solo brass discs that you are likely to hear in quite a while. Flaten stands alongside the very best exponents of his instrument and with the able accompaniment of Eikanger-Bjørsvik and Bergen Symphonic Winds the outcome is an irresistible disc that is endlessly fascinating in its contrasts.

Christopher Thomas



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