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The Symphonic Euphonium II
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Concerto for tenor tuba and orchestra (2018) adapted by David Childs and Rodney Newton from Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra (1954) [12:35]
Edward GREGSON (b.1945)
Concerto for Euphonium and Orchestra (2018) [22:43]
Paul MEALOR (b.1975)
Concerto for Euphonium and Orchestra (2017) [15:56]
Michael BALL (b.1946)
Concerto for Euphonium and Orchestra (2004, arranged from Concerto for Euphonium and brass band, 2002) [18:25]
David Childs (euphonium), BBC Philharmonic/Ben Gernon
rec. 2019, MediaCity, Salford, Manchester
CHANDOS CHAN10997 [70:06]

The first volume in this series teamed David Childs with Bramwell Tovey and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for a programme of music by Hoddinott, Horovitz, Jenkins and Wilby. The second volume sees another orchestra and conductor but no lessening of reportorial inquisitiveness. Childs has teamed with Rodney Newton to adapt Vaughan Williams’s 1954 Bass Tuba Concerto to one for the Tenor.  This is an idea that went back to the work’s first soloist, the LSO’s Philip Catelinet who wanted to make a version for euphonium and brass – he had scored VW’s Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn Tunes for brass band. As Paul Hindmarsh relates in his notes for this release, VW agreed to the idea, but it foundered because of concerns about commercial viability. Now, with the approval of the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust and OUP, this edition has been made by Childs and Watkins – the latter being the orchestrator.

It’s not an arrangement for euphonium and brass, of course, and nor is it really a case of ‘old wine, new bottle’. It does give the solo instrument a more immediate and agile response and perhaps one could skittishly claim the result – in a Back to the Future kind of way - to be the first Euphonium Concerto, even though that was, in fact, the concerto by Horovitz. In any case Childs plays beautifully, as controlled in the cadenza as he is rich-toned in the cantabile of the Romanza – the solo brass player’s equivalent of the similar movement in VW’s Fifth Symphony. His embouchure takes no strain in the virtuosity of the finale and he proves an outstanding guide down to the finale’s cadenza and brisk throwaway finale.

Edward Gregson’s Concerto was composed in 2018 for Childs, a three-movement work with clearly defined and characterised movements; Dialogues, Song without Words and A Celtic Bacchanal. There are some lovely coastal sonics here – one imagines crying gulls - along with the strangely Arnoldian (Malcolm not Matthew) paragraphs. The central movement has a lullaby-like beauty though it clouds to admit a contrasting agitation emerging, finally, replenished and renewed. The finale unleashes full Celtic – hardly a twilight, more a boozy shindig. Here, too, though Gregson spins a lyric web in the central panel nothing is ever predictable in this ingenious work. Paul Mealor’s Concerto was also written for Childs who, like Mealor, is Welsh. The Concerto evokes lines from a Gaelic song, The Boatman. A despairing wife calls to her fisherman husband who has never returned from the seas.  One really does feel the spray and plume, the lyrical leaps in the euphonium, along with beautifully shadowing winds. But it’s not merely a forlorn song of love and loss; the soloist proves taut and brilliant and sensitive too in the folkloric introspection of the slow movement – a real Adagissimo indeed. Despite this, the music ends in dizzying triumph.

All the concertos are heard in premiere recordings including Michael Ball’s 2002 work, originally composed for euphonium and brass band. Recast in 2004 to a Childs commission with orchestral support it, too, is full of interest, segueing from lyricism to urgency, admitting some possible VW-like harmonies, as well as some lovely thematic writing. Ball’s recasting ensures some warming work for the orchestral strings and allows Childs a cadenza that tests his virtuosity to the utmost. The perky finale with a quotient of folksy frolicsome bonhomie makes a fitting end for the concerto and indeed for the disc.

There is so much here that is so approachable and finely done that my final point feels churlish but necessary to make. My only complaint about the recording is that it seems to me that the euphonium has been given prominence far out in front of the orchestra – the excellent BBC Philharmonic under Ben Gernon - and to its detriment. Others may well have different views on this and welcome the closeness of the solo instrument but to me it is a misjudgment.

Jonathan Woolf  

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