Art of the Tuba
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
I Wish You Bliss, for voice (tuba) and piano* [from op.38] [2:42]
David POPPER (1846-1913)
Begegnung for cello (tuba) and piano, op.3 no.5* [1:59]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Tuba Sonata (1955) [10:48]
John STEVENS (b.1951)
Triangles, for horn, trombone and tuba (1978) [10:20]
Autumn, for tuba and piano (2009) [5:45]
Roland SZENTPALI (b.1977)
Allegro Fuoco, for tuba and piano (2005) [6:15]
Áron ROMHÁNYI (b.1974)
Parallels, for tuba and piano (2008) [11:40]
Michel GODARD (b.1960)
Deep Memories, for tuba trio (2009) [6:49]
Fabien WALLERAND (b.1979)
Vińales, for tuba trio [5:47]
* arr. Fabien Wallerand (tuba)
Fabien Wallerand (tuba)
Maréva Bécu (piano)
David Defiez (horn)
Nicolas Vallade (trombone)
Michel Godard (tuba II)
Stéphane Labeyrie (tuba III)
No recording details given. DDD
INDESENS INDE027 [61:09]

This is French tuba-player Fabien Wallerand's first solo CD. In his booklet notes, he describes it as a "promenade through various musical periods where the tuba has been shown to its advantage", yet for an instrument patented in 1835, only the first two pieces - both transcriptions - come from outside the last half a century, with half coming from within the last five or so years.

The first two pieces, Korngold's I Wish You Bliss (taken from his 5 Lieder op.38) and Popper's Begegnung op.3 no.5, are transcriptions by Wallerand. They are short and tuneful, but that is about all that can be said for them - neither piece is really screaming to be played on the tuba, and both would have been far better placed at the end of the programme, like encore pieces at the end of a live recital. Paul Hindemith's Tuba Sonata, on the other hand, is one of the cornerstones of the tuba repertoire, and has been recorded several times before. Though not one of Hindemith's greatest works, it is easily the most profound in Wallerand's generally rather light, jazz-oriented programme.

American composer and tuba player John D. Stevens has written several works for his instrument, including a concerto. On this disc he is represented by two works, Autumn, for tuba and piano, sighing with aptly wistful reflection, and Triangles, for tuba, horn and trombone, which has four sections joined into a single movement by brief cadenzas for each of the soloists in turn, and sounds like basic repertoire for any British brass band.

Next come two very recent works, both for tuba and piano, by youngish Hungarian tuba-player-composers Roland Szentpali and Áron Romhányi. Szentpali's striking single-movement Allegro Fuoco is one good reason at least to buy this CD. The title is slightly misleading: for one thing, there is an extended slowish, reflective middle section, and for another, it is mainly the piano that plays fuoco, although the tuba certainly has some virtuosic turns of speed, especially towards the end. Allegro Fuoco is a must for any tuba recitalist's repertory. Romhányi's Parallels is far more jazz-tailored, and consequently less rewarding - though still attractive. It is in three traditional movements, although there is nothing classical about the writing - the tuba plays like a deep jazz trumpet throughout, whereas the piano part, in the first and third sections, is often quasi-minimalist, and in the middle Andante rubato the harmonies are distinctly bluesy.

The disc ends with two works for three tubas, not the most obviously irresistible combination for a brass trio. Those who dislike slightly pretentious 'jazz grooves' should proceed no further. Michel Godard's Deep Memories is actually an arrangement of his - the notes do not say what the original forces were. The recording is marred somewhat by the soloists' deep gulps of breath that are all too audible, particularly in the opening bars. Fabien Wallerand's own Vińales is named after a trip to the valley of that name in Cuba, where he heard the tune. Both works have some merit - there is considerable virtuosity in Wallerand's piece, for example, but they seem unconvincing attempts to show how cool the tuba - or more likely, tuba-players - can be, and Godard's piece drags on like a Latin jazz jam that refuses to die.

The CD booklet is reasonably informative, but also a source of various niggles. Some examples: the written accents are missing from Bécu's and Romhányi's names; at one point, Fabien Wallerand becomes Wallerand Fabien, and Allegro Fuoco becomes Fuoco Allegro; the notes give no details about the musical content of any of the works; the English translations from the French are often dubious; there are several punctuation and orthographical errors. There are also too many photos - seven - of Wallerand!

Sound quality is fairly good, although there are a few issues that need to be considered by any potential buyer. First, the microphones are likely a little too close to the tuba for comfort - if any instrument needs a bit of breathing space, it is the deeply resonating tuba. One result of such a placement is that a lot of Wallerand's intakes of breath are highly audible. Second, through headphones some background hum is audible at any break in the music; and at the end of the first movement of Hindemith's Sonata, a male voice can faintly be heard calling in the distance. Third, some of the tracks are artificially cut short, with digital silence inserted in place of recorded silence. If any lingering resonance from the tuba or piano at the end of a track is compromised, it is only a matter of the tiniest fraction of a second - but it is still a potential annoyance inflicted on the listener pointlessly.

Wallerand and fellow soloists perform well enough - especially Maréva Bécu on the piano in the Hindemith and Romhányi - but there are several aspects of this whole production that French label Indésens could have done considerably better - and should have.

Byzantion

Szentpali's striking Allegro Fuoco makes a good reason to buy this CD.