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20th Century Tuba Concertos
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Concerto for Bass Tuba (1954) [11:52]
Alexander ARUTIUNIAN (b. 1920)
Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra (1992) [13:02]
Torbjörn Iwan LUNDQUIST (1920-2000)
Landscape for tuba, string orchestra and piano (1978) [15:04]
John WILLIAMS (b. 1932)
Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra (1985) [17:00]
Øystein Baadsvik (tuba)
Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Anne Manson
rec. no details supplied. DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1515 [58:14]
Experience Classicsonline

Tuba-player Øystein Baadsvik has been responsible for embellishing the repertoire of his instrument to the tune of forty premiere performances. His achievement along with those of fellow Scandinavians Christian Lindberg (trombone) and Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet) says a good deal about the pioneering spirit of Nordic brass players.
 
Like Lindberg, Baadsvik was also a late starter, not taking the instrument up until the age of fifteen but then progressing with all haste to win first prize in a major Norwegian competition for soloists just three years later. It was a victory that soon started him on a career that quickly included solo performances with a number of Norway’s leading orchestras.
 
Since then, Baadsvik has gone on to carve a reputation as one of the only, if not totally solitary practitioners of the instrument to maintain a strong profile as a soloist alone, not having combined that career with a chair in a major orchestra or teaching post. It’s quite an achievement given that it was not very long ago that the tuba was still regarded as something of a “comedy instrument”, a soloistic outsider amongst the other orchestral array.
 
Baadsvik is not the only performer to have released solo CDs in recent years. The 2006 Naxos release of British tuba concertos performed by James Gourlay was a considerable success (see review), whilst several star performers prominent in the brass world including Stephen Sykes and Joseph Cook have also released recent solo discs. In Baadsvik’s hands though, the instrument really does take on a wholly striking dimension. This is largely marked by his innate musicality and effortless technique. That technique is employed to particularly telling effect in the slower music on this new disc, where he makes the instrument sing in its upper register with ear-opening results.
 
The Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto in F Minor is above all others the staple concerto of the repertoire and was also included by James Gourlay on his Naxos disc. Gourlay’s is a fine recording although Baadsvik, a touch lighter in sound than his English counterpart, is wonderfully eloquent in the central Romanza which he plays with a natural feel for the line and phrasing of VW’s mellifluous melody. The opening Prelude and concluding Rondo all’ Tedesca are no less impressive. The Finale in particular demonstrates the exceptional clarity of Baadsvik’s articulation in the nimble athleticism called for by the composer.
 
Alexander Arutiunian is perhaps better known for his Trumpet Concerto than the later Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra of 1992. The latter work possesses much of the same Armenian melodic character of the former, coupled with an irrepressible sense of fun and high spirits in the outer movements. Conversely, the central Andante sostenuto is a much more serious affair and the soloist once again captures the composer’s wish to “let the instrument sing” with some style. Khachaturian is a clear influence in Arutiunian’s music but its infectious melodies and lively rhythms make for entertaining listening. In this respect at least, the Tuba Concerto is easily the equal of its partner for trumpet.
 
Lundquist’s Landscape, for the unusual combination of tuba, string orchestra and piano, is perhaps the most intriguing of the works on the disc but also turns out to be the most rewarding in its conception as a whole. Cast in three continuously played sections, Lundquist set out to prove the tuba an equal amongst its orchestral counterparts. It’s a feat he achieves by providing a solo part of particularly testing virtuosity, alternating passages of technical brilliance and reflection in the opening section with an at times song-like central section and a concluding cadenza that serves to take the music back to its beginnings to end in questioning fashion on the note with which it began.
 
As exciting as John Williams’ film music is, it is nonetheless a refreshing change to hear him away from the realms of ET, Star Wars and Superman. His 1985 Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra, written for the Boston Pops Orchestra’s solo tuba player Chester Schmitz during Williams’ own tenure with the orchestra, serves to evidence just how fine a composer Williams is for the concert hall. Whilst there are passages and rhythmic devices that point clearly towards the familiarity of his film music, there is also a good deal of music in the Concerto that whets the appetite for more of Williams on the concert stage. 
 
Of the four works on the disc, this is the most the most strikingly virtuosic of them all and Baadsvik responds in almost hair-raising fashion with the elusive, distant quality of the slow movement playing to his lyrical strengths. The pyrotechnics of the highly dynamic final Allegro molto are despatched with both disarming ease and panache. If ever evidence was needed of the tuba’s ability to be agile, this is it.               
 
Anne Manson and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra provide sensitive, musically aware accompaniment throughout and contribute significantly to an entertaining and enjoyable release that further marks out Øystein Baadsvik as a tuba-player of rare quality. Even if solo brass music is not your regular diet, there is much to discover here that might just take you into new and eminently listenable musical territory.
 
Christopher Thomas
 

 


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