The Lure of the Red Jacket
Concerto for Euphonium and Brass Band [14:48]
My Mountain Top [8:15]
Salt of the Earth: Gospel [4:44]
Euphonium Concerto No. 1 [19:32]
My Favourite Things [5:18]
Glyn Williams (euphonium)
Foden’s Band/Michael Fowles
No rec. information. DDD
DOYEN DOY CD287 [73:01]
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.
One of the best solo brass albums I have heard in years.