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Edward GREGSON (b.1945)
Trombone Concerto (1979) [14:41]
Peter Moore (trombone)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Bramwell Tovey
rec. Watford Colosseum, 1 March 2010. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN10627 [14:41]

Download only from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless sound)

Experience Classicsonline

I'm not sure what I was expecting when Rob Barnett, the Classical Editor, asked me to look out for the appearance of this new recording, currently available only as a download, and to review it. Would the 'b.1945' betoken some post-Schoenbergian musical trauma, or did the connection which I knew to exist between Edward Gregson and brass band music mean that this new concerto would inhabit some insipid middle-of-the-road territory? I'm pleased to report that neither is the case; indeed, I enjoyed the experience so much that I now intend to search out the recordings of Gregson's other music. Please see below for details and expect reviews in my monthly Download Roundups.

As EMI did in the case of the Adès Violin Concerto, Chandos have released this concerto on its own as a download only until they have assembled more of Gregson's music for a CD release. Incidentally, EMI have now carried out their promise to include the Adès Concerto, with added content, on CD, 4578132. I understand that the Chandos coupling will be Gregson's Cello Concerto. The download costs £2.10 in good mp3 sound at the highest bit-rate of 320 kbps, or £2.70 in a variety of lossless formats. Audiophiles also have the choice of better-than-CD 24-bit sound for £3.60. Please note that such 24/96 downloads are not suitable for burning to CDR or for playing on the popular Squeezebox. For those who have never downloaded before, the process of registering on the Chandos site and obtaining the music is very straightforward and intuitive.

As Chandos offer no notes and there is, as yet, no booklet to download, some information may be helpful. The concerto was composed for Michael Hext, the first winner of the BBC Television Young Musician of the Year competition in 1978, in response to a commission from the Bedfordshire Education Service, with the assistance of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Its first performance was in 1979 at the Royal College of Music; Michael Hext was the soloist, with the Bedfordshire County Youth Orchestra, conducted by Michael Rose.

Composed for one winner of the BBC Young Musician competition, the Trombone Concerto is now performed by a more recent star, Peter Moore who, at the age of twelve, was the youngest winner in 2008. Now aged fourteen, Peter is a student at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester. As the former principal of the Royal Northern College of Music in the same city, a governor of the school and a member of the Young Musicians panel, Gregson obviously speaks from knowledge of Peter Moore's talent, so, when he praises him as a musician of the highest calibre, we had better believe it.

Our own Glyn Pursglove was equally impressed. His words about Peter Moore's playing in the Young Musician final are certainly applicable to his solo on the new recording: 'The extraordinary maturity of his playing, a maturity which paradoxically retains a freshness and innocence, a directness, an uncluttered vision of what is at the heart of each piece of music that he plays, is certainly remarkable.' (See review in Seen and Heard). I do hope that we shall hear much more of him - he might even help to make the trombone a more popular instrument.

Gregson's own description of the concerto is better than anything that I could offer:

The work falls into three main sections, played without a break, but conforming to the traditional pattern of concerto structure. After a slow introduction, containing most of the motivic and rhythmic ideas used in the work, there follows the main fast section which is divided into three parts and concludes with a fierce climax (timpani and gong). The slow and intense middle section is linked to a cadenza for the soloist, at first unaccompanied but leading to accompanied references to earlier material. The final section is a scherzo which dramatically ends with a re-statement of the opening slow introduction. A brisk coda concludes the work. The interval of a fourth (and its augmented form) provides melodic and harmonic unity for the work; the tonal juxtaposition between E minor and B flat major through the concerto being an important element of the structure.

If I say that the introductory slow section reminded me at times of Britten and at others of Arnold, I am not implying any sort of plagiarism, rather seeking to establish the quality of the composition and the area which the music inhabits. The tone here is lyrical, with the soloist floating over the orchestra and sounding rather plangent at times. As we move gradually into the first part of the central fast section the lyricism becomes less apparent; though it reasserts itself at times, the tone becomes rather more troubled and occasionally discordant until it concludes in the fierce climax to which the composer's note refers.

Even at this climactic point, however, there is nothing here more frightening for the traditionally-minded than can be found in Vaughan Williams, Walton or Arnold. Nor is the composer's description of the central slow section as 'intense' a euphemism for discordance. Surprised though I am to find The Lark Ascending chosen year after year by Classic FM listeners, I think those listeners would find this section of Gregson's concerto no harder to respond to, with the soloist again floating his music above the orchestra in much the same manner as the violinist does in the Vaughan Williams. Try the section which begins just before ten minutes into the work to see what I mean.

Nor does the concluding scherzo bring much to tax those who find that they don't respond immediately to most new music - among whom I include myself. Once again it's VW, Walton and Arnold territory, metaphorically, rather than, say the Adès Violin Concerto to which I referred. It took me some time to feel at home with the Adès - I'm still struggling a little with his The Tempest - but it required only two playings to convince myself of the value of the Gregson Trombone Concerto.

For some reason, members of the brass family as concerto soloists don't have a lasting track record, apart from the perennial Mozart Horn Concertos and an occasional outing for the Haydn Trumpet Concerto. Perhaps it's the mental association with Tubby the Tuba that has led to Vaughan Williams' concerto for that instrument being neglected, though I was surprised to see that it's currently available in six versions, including couplings with Gregson's and other British Tuba Concertos on Naxos 8.557744 and Albany TROY501.

Trombone Concertos seem mainly to be the preserve of Scandinavian composers, though there is one by Gordon Jacob, which has been recorded twice, with Warwick Tyrrell as soloist on ABC 438825-2 and with Christian Lindberg, coupled with Trombone Concertos by Elgar Howarth and Derek Bourgeois on BIS-CD-658. Jacob's concerto is more immediately likeable than Gregson's; it has a generally jollier tone, including several raspberry sounds, but ultimately, I think, the Gregson work is the more durable. The Howarth concerto has a greater range of moods - generally serious in tone, though with its share of raspberry noises, too. It has more to offer me than the Jacob, but I think shall return to the Gregson at least as often.

I imagine that this new download will shortly join the other Chandos recordings of the composer's music on the Naxos Music Library for those who wish to try before buying. Subscribers to NML may wish to make it their first port of call, to try out the three other Chandos releases of Gregson's music and four other recordings on offer there:

" Solo! Air Combat Command Heritage of America Band: Altissimo 75442261932
" Concertos for Brass - Besses o' th' Barn Band: Chandos CHAN4526
" British Tuba Concertos Naxos 8.557754
" Vaughan Williams: Bass Tuba Concerto in F minor; Ewazen: Bass Trombone Concerto; Gregson: Tuba Concerto - Depaul Wind Ensemble: Albany TROY501
" Gregson: Trumpet Concerto; Homages; Saxophone Concerto - BBC Philharmonic/Rundell: Chandos CHAN10478
" Gregson: Blazon; Clarinet Concerto; Stepping Out; Violin Concerto Chandos CHAN10105
" Morthenson: Paraphonia; Dahl: Saxophone Concerto; Gregson: Tuba Concerto; Keuris: Catena: Caprice CAP21414
" Kiss My Brass - US Military Bands: Altissimo 75442255902

The Naxos Music Library also has the ABC and BIS recordings of the Jacob and Howarth Trombone Concertos.

The Chandos recordings are best downloaded from their own website, theclassicalshop.net, or purchased on CD. The Naxos recording is best purchased from Naxos's own website, classicsonline.com, and the other recordings are also available there.

Overall, then, this new recording impressed me. I shall want to return to it for the sake of the music - less immediately appealing than, say, Gordon Jacob's concerto, but ultimately more satisfying, I think. I hope that it bucks the trend of concertos for brass instruments to be less than popular.

I happily yield to the composer's own high assessment of Peter Moore as soloist, and the accompaniment and recording are all I could wish them to be. Even if you intend to buy the CD when it appears, I don't think you will regret spending a couple of pounds on the download now. If Chandos would include some notes - which they sometimes do a week or so after the download appears, so keep looking - my satisfaction would be complete. I certainly have this recording earmarked as Discovery of the Month in my June 2010 Download Roundup.

Brian Wilson

 


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