This is Glyn Williams’ second solo album. It confirms his status
as one of the great euphonium players of our time. His well-received
first solo album, Virtuoso, was a compilation of bon-bons
and arrangements of familiar tunes, which made flagrant display
of his all-encompassing technique. This album is an altogether
more serious proposition, as indeed it is intended to be – Williams
says as much in his introduction to the liner notes. It features
major new concert works for euphonium and brass band, and some
classics of the euphonium repertoire. Each piece receives a
stylish and individual performance that lingers in the memory.
The album opens with a new concerto composed for Glyn Williams
by Foden’s Band’s composer in residence, Andy Scott. Scott is
a relative newcomer to the brass band world, but has quickly
established himself as one of the leading British brass band
composers of his generation, alongside the likes of Paul Lovett
Cooper, Peter Meechan (Musical Associate with Foden’s) and Simon
Dobson. Scott’s own instrument is the saxophone, and his long
immersion in jazz and big band music tells in his compositions.
Scott’s concerto is in three movements, each with an evocative
title. The first movement, which gives the album its name (the
“red jacket” is a reference to the Foden’s livery), growls and
skirls jazzily on driving rhythms, with a cadenza towards its
close recasting the movement’s main theme in soulful melancholy.
The second movement recaptures this mood, Williams floating
lyrical melody above some rather lovely, tonally varied scoring.
The music builds dramatically until suddenly the voice of the
euphonium is replaced by the voice of its master as Glyn Williams
sings. His rich bass-baritone resonates with the melancholy
words of Welsh poet, Henry Vaughan “They are all gone into the
world of light, and I alone sit lingering here”. The opening
bars of the ridiculously virtuosic finale explode from the speakers.
The music of this brief final movement surges like the first
on jazzy syncopations, but the clouds have now been dispersed.
I am not sure that the concerto really coheres as a concerto
should. Its individual movements are impressive and the outer
movements have an attractive symmetry given their similar character,
but for me the second movement’s beauty fades all too abruptly.
There can be no doubting the commitment and sheer bravura of
the soloist though.
Two more Andy Scott compositions feature on this album. The
penultimate track, Gospel, is a big swinging, soulful
big-band inspiration, gorgeously played. Originally the second
movement of Scott’s tuba concerto, it works beautifully as a
stand-alone euphonium solo. At the heart of the album is Scott’s
modern classic, My Mountain Top. Originally written
for saxophone quartet and synthesisers, then re-scored for euphonium
and recorded crackle (David Thornton made a memorable
recording of this version), Scott has re-scored the music
again for solo euphonium and full band (and crackle), painting
with lush harmony and impressionistic melody Lemn Sissay’s ecstatic
verse. Williams is alive to every nuance. I can’t be sure, but
I think this is the same recording that appeared on the 2010
CD devoted to Scott’s works for brass band, A World Within
(DOYEN DOY CD 276), an album that is worth seeking out.
Another new work for euphonium, Veritas, is not by
a Foden’s house composer, but by the band’s principal conductor,
Bramwell Tovey. Tovey, who may be better known to music-lovers
as the Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and
as a composer of orchestral works, fashioned this haunting solo
from the slow movement of his cello concerto, initially for
trombone and now for euphonium. Williams impresses here with
the smoothness of his tone across an enormous range and with
the lyrical introspection of his playing.
That quality of lyrical introspection comes to the fore again
in the two pieces by John Golland. Peace is, for me,
a perfect work for euphonium from one of the true – though relatively
unsung – masters of brass scoring. The simple beauty and gentle
ache of Golland’s melody and the harmonies he floats around
it are enhanced by Williams’ tender, generous playing.
I have long prized Robert Childs’ recording of John Golland’s
first euphonium concerto. Witty, and harmonically intriguing,
the concerto is written in three movements that are played without
break. Robert Childs is a bold and dashing soloist. Glyn Williams
intrigues with the introspection of his playing, and his cadenzas
in particular are deeply ruminative. His deeply considered performance
and the sheer beauty of his tone make his recording of Golland
No.1 my new reference point.
The final established classic is Robert Redhead’s Euphony,
itself a miniature concerto expertly scored for euphonium and
band. Williams makes light of the difficult passage work in
the outer sections and makes his instrument sing at its heart.
“Euphony” means “sweet sounds”, and if Williams’ tone were any
sweeter you would need a shot of insulin before listening.
The closing track fizzes like sherbet. Alan Fernie’s high-energy
My Favourite Things splices Richard Rodgers’ famous
melody with slices of the eupho parts of some of the cruellest
test-pieces in the repertoire. Those finger-twisting bars from
the finale of Sparke’s Year of the Dragon used to give
me nightmares when I was a young euphonium player! Glyn Williams
not only doesn’t miss a beat, but sounds like he is having terrific
fun. It makes this track a rousing finish to one of the best
solo brass albums I have heard in years.