Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Friday, November 21st, 2014
There was a full house at the RCS for this Friday lunchtime concert featuring The New Wallace Collection brass ensemble, led by John Wallace, former principal at the Conservatoire and now Emeritus Professor of Brass. They were joined by the Royal Conservatoire Brass and soprano Julia Daramy-Williams. The opening item was ‘Concerto for 7 Trumpets and Timpani’, attributed to the 18thC German composer Johann Ernst Altenburg, though we learned that the piece was probably ‘handed down’ by his students. Fitting then, that the composition was played in sprightly and confident manner by student musicians, conducted by John Wallace, who kept things precise, while still conveying his enthusiasm by sashaying from the waist down – prompting a comment later from my companion that she liked the hang of his jacket.
In the Scottish première of Eddie McGuire’s sequence of five Songs from the North, members of the New Wallace Collection accompanied lyric sopano Julia Daramy-Williams, a singer in her second year of the Master of Music programme at RCS. Greenland, Iceland, volcanic and other northern landscapes provided settings for these musical voyages, as well as more familiar territory in the Hebrides and the River Clyde. There is also an underlying theme of goodwill and friendship, and the beautiful harmonic and counter-pointed interactions, most often with muted brass, conveyed this well.
The qualities associated with a lyric soprano – warmth and brightness with a full, rich timbre – are certainly there in Julia Daramy-Williams’ voice; added to that she had composure, a lively sense of energy when the songs moved that way, and she rounded out everything wth clear assurance. The very experienced players, with trumpets, trombone, french horn, tuba (this had a mute about the size of traffic cone), showed how tact and virtuosity can be combined, and as a result McGuire’s fine songs were wonderfully conveyed. The virtuosity, this time on some historic instruments from the John Webb Collection, carried over into Jules Levy’s signature composition ‘Whirlwind Polka’. Here, John Wallace on cornet, John Miller, also on cornet, John Logan on French horn, Simon Johnson on a Sax trombone and Tony George on ophicleide chased us back to the heydays of Philadelphia and other American hotspots in the late 19th century.
Levy had competed with the Scottish-born Matthew Arbuckle and others for billing as the ‘World’s Greatest’ cornet player at the time; but when the white gloves went on and everything kicked off in Glasgow it was evident John Wallace still shaped right up with the best: though whether he was using an A shank and a high pitch slide to speed things on their way I couldn’t exactly tell. The final concert piece involved the Royal Conservatoire Brass group with the New Wallace Collection, conducted by John Logan, to give us Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition arranged for brass and percussion by Elgar Howarth. The composition, which started out as a piano solo, has gone through plenty of arrangements – Ravel’s orchestral one being especially popular – but the colour, and range and vitality of Howarth’s version is immediately attractive.
In the ‘Whirlwind Polka’ we had mischief, quixotic display and astonishing command. In this performance of Pictures at an Exhibition the ensemble playing brought out the full variety of moods and effects suggested in movement titles like ‘Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells’, Catacombs’, Baba Yaga’ and ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’. At the same time, the continuing link of the ‘Promenade’ and the conductor’s sure touch provided integrity. There was strength and lightness, there were rumbling undertones and a marche funèbre, then high tremolos, then something else ominous, then passages with squawks and mayhem, straight out of Daffy Duck. When things got solemn and impressive they never were ponderous. All the brass sections (trumpets, French horns, trombones and tubas), and the flugelhorn and the euphonium, and the two percussionists emerged with full credit. Delicacy of tone, drive and impulse, were properly achieved. There is a grand and stately flowering that leads to the finale, and when the conclusion was reached, and applause got underway, you could tell this was an audience that had got full value, that felt something special had come their way. FIVE STARS
Reviewer : Mr Scales
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