Date: Tue, 24 Feb 1998 18:50:21 GMT
From: (Neville Young)
Subject: REV: LSO Brass Ensemble concert review (LONG)

I know there isn't really a REV category. Do we need one maybe?

I did promise that I would do a write-up of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) Brass concert which took place in Islington, London, UK on December 2nd. I'm very sorry that it has taken me so long and I must pay tribute to the TPIN member whose gentle persistence has led to me getting round to writing this. I will not name names but suffice it to say that he knows who he is, and his Herroick (geddit?) efforts will not go unrewarded.

The announcement about the concert is still up on the web at if you want fuller details (I must get round to removing it one of these days!).

Obviously, since I work for the promoters, the chances of me giving a wholly objective review are about zilch, so please read this with all necessary health warnings. And anyway this is all very much imho of course.

The concert took place in the Union Chapel which is a wonderful building, a huge (seats about 1200 max I think) Victorian stone and brick nonconformist church, based on an Italian Baroque basilica. As a consequence it has lovely galleries and things which do tend to catch the brass player's eye!

The main attraction of the concert for me was the selection of Gabrieli pieces. I have always been hopelessly infatuated with these and still treasure that wonderful brass-sections-of-three-great-US-orchs recording of them (on CBS) which has been discussed on TPIN before. In this setting they were perfect, and were played beautifully, with prominent flugelhorn in the softer of the choirs, played by Anne McAneney.

The Purcell suite, from the Fairy Queen, was a nice fresh thing to hear - I don't know if it's been done for brass before but if so I haven't heard it. It had some very exciting moments and you do tend to get the odd quite fruity/bizarre harmony from time to time, which keeps you on your toes. This suite also contained the only bum note in the whole concert: there is a tricky moment of a three-level echo which is simulated by smaller and quieter groupings, and when it got down to the last level for the first time the pair of trumpets playing it in some sort of very quiet mute couldn't get the open fifth in tune for a moment. They had had this trouble in the rehearsal too but when the same thing came round again later in the piece it was perfect. I couldn't see quite what the mutes were which caused the trouble - something just a bit louder than a practice mute, it seemed to me. I mention this not to gloat over pro players having difficulties too (although there is of course something quite reassuring about *some* evidence that they are not all superman/woman!) but mainly because this one minor thing was the *only* nit to pick in the whole show, which isn't bad!

The other old piece in the first half was the Banchieri Sonata in Echo, which you probably know. Rather than having written out/faked echo effects this simply sticks the echo choir offstage somewhere and lets nature take its course. Not much to say about this, they played it beautifully, and I made sure that the offstage stewards were briefed because like many other trumpet players I have heard all the offstage horror stories ('ere mate, you can't play that bl**dy thing there, there's a concert going on etc etc).

We then adjourned to the bar and defrosted over a hot drink or two for a while.

In the second half the big revelation was Eric Crees' arrangements of Brahms, two Intermezzi and a Rhapsody. These were originally piano pieces I think. In the past I have heard a fair amount of old codswallop palmed off as brass arrangements of Romantic music but this was really something - light, fruity, harmonious and with a beautiful range of textures. A real strawberry yoghurt of a piece in fact. If they record this, I'm buying it.

Next up was a suite of pieces by Jim Parker based on a series of pictures of New York seen through an Englishman's eyes, A Londoner in New York. To US ears this may well have been vilely inaccurate, stereotypical and insulting, but to the average naive English person (me) they sounded terrific. They were also played with great verve by the ensemble, who were starting to let their hair down a bit by then.

Last in the main programme was a Gershwin suite arranged by (I think) Richard Bissill who is a horn player in one of the other London orchs. Although this was a very skillful arrangement and well played to boot, it
didn't do much for me - I felt that it fell into the gap between leaving Gershwin alone and using it as the basis for a whole new piece (like a jazz standard). So playing it almost straight but slightly 'jazzed up' doesn't really appeal to me - it seems to me that it's *already* in a jazz(ish) idiom and to (for example) flatten the fifth near the end of 'Summertime' in an otherwise fairly straight(ish) arrangement sounds as if you think Gershwin didn't know his business, or they didn't play flattened fifths back then, or something. I'm not saying this was a great atrocity, just that of all the pieces in the concert it didn't do much for me personally. I wouldn't, for example, go out of my way to acquire a recording.

After a rapturous reception they did the Ray Premru Blues March - an old favourite beloved of Philip Jones fans - as an encore, and very nice it was too.

It's hard to pick out individual players when they were all so good. Maurice Murphy was of course wonderful, but I can't help wondering if it's not a bit of a shame that Maurice's fame means that no-one talks much about Rod Franks who is a very fine principal trumpet in his own right but just not regarded as so cute, unusual, etc etc etc as Maurice. James Watson was fantastic. He was only in the first half where they had the bigger ensemble. He has a very odd-looking embouchure but plays like a dream. I had decided not to go up and say 'hey guys I'm a trumpet player' to the ensemble as I imagine people do it all the time and they probably just think 'what a ****er', but I did break cover enough to have a word with James and in particular to thank him for a concert he did with the London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble at my school in about 1968/69, which had a great influence on me. He was very nice about it and I hope the overall effect was positive, rather than making him feel about 100!

I was also *very* taken with the piccolo trumpet playing of Nigel Gomm. He is one of those huge people who dwarf even a Bb, so the picc more or less disappeared. The effect however was staggering - effortless, in tune, beautifully sweet. He is clearly doing something wrong as he does not go bright red and produce strangled squawks like me. And the other man of the match for me was Patrick Harrild, the tuba player, who was just wonderful - the most fantastically warm and rounded tone I have heard.

In general I enjoyed it very much. It's ages since I heard a really good brass ensemble and I had forgotten just how good it can get - when I play in them, it's not quite like this! The audience was disappointing but not ludicrously thin. The Chapel is amazingly hard to sell as a classical venue though it does great business in jazz, world music, obscure rock and so on. My feeling is that we might have enough to work on for the future - my own fantasy is for the next big thing to be not just one concert but a festival of brass, with different styles - a classical ensemble, a brass band, a jazz group and so on, but all featuring and celebrating brass playing. Who knows? :)

Sorry for the long posting and, if you've managed to hang on this far, thanks!


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Neville Young