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
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
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
" Concertos for Brass - Besses o' th' Barn Band: Chandos
" British Tuba Concertos Naxos 8.557754
" Vaughan Williams: Bass Tuba Concerto in F minor; Ewazen:
Bass Trombone Concerto; Gregson: Tuba Concerto - Depaul Wind Ensemble:
" 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.