Concert Review

RNCM Wind Orchestra at the RNCM 22nd March 2000

Formed over twenty years ago The Royal Northern College of Music's Wind Orchestra is now recognised as one of the leading conservatoire ensembles in the world. They have performed a vast amount of music (over 500 works) toured France, Japan and most recently Poland; commissioned many new works and revived many more. They have also made several commercial recordings, impressive work from student ensemble with a frequent change of personnel.

Tonight's concert was jointly conducted by John Reynolds - Head of the RNCM's Wind department - and Glenn Price, a visiting conductor from the University of Calgary, Canada. David Bedford's rather elaborately titled Sun Paints Rainbows on Vast Waves (1982) - after Coleridge - made a dramatic opening, full of vibrancy and rhythmic syncopation. Reynolds chose to triple the clarinets and double the flutes; the result was thrilling. You do not often chance upon nine clarinets playing block chords! The percussion section was terrifically enhanced by the inclusion of eight suspended bottles - seven wine & one gin - the overall effect was one of great vibrancy, with a little Spanish influence. The performance tight and concentrated, save for the occasional ragged percussionist.

A third year student, the saxophonist Charlotte Bradburn, joined the ensemble for a rousing performance of Michael Ball's Concerto for Alto Saxophone (1994). This fine young musician had the necessary energy and personality to give this rather Waltonesque (with a touch of medieval pastiche) concerto a commanding performance. There was, however, a degree of unbalance in sections with the ensemble often covering the soloist's more subdued music.

Although it included a performance of Holst's First Suite the rest of the second half was dedicated to works composed in the 1990's, all of which were also European premieres. The Canadian Henry Kucharzyk's Some Assembly Required - Part III (1998) was the first of four works conducted by the visiting conductor Glenn Price. This presented the most avant-garde music of the evening: juxtaposing a driving insistent figure with a subtle, subdued chordal idea. The reduced ensemble (minus several flutes and clarinets) handled its dual nature with ease, effortlessly jumping from one extreme to another.

Michael Daugherty's Niagara Falls (1997) offered a humorous and colourful end to the evening, for this the ensemble were joined by a pianist, organist and a little amplified double-bass. Pitched somewhere between the blues and film noir, it is indeed a meditation on the American Sublime. A wacky ride over the Niagara Falls with an occasional stop at a haunted house along the way. Excellently scored and performed with electric energy by this youthful and impressive ensemble.

Ailis Ni Riain

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