CD cover - Norwegian EuphoniumNorwegian Euphonium


Tormod Flaten
Accompanied by: Eikanger Bjørsvik Musikklag; Bergen Symphonic Band; Craig Farr
Conductors: Reid Gilje and Martin Winter
Doyen Recordings: CD190
Total Playing Time: 72.38

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It is a happy coincidence that the release of this impressive new solo disc by Tormod Flaten, coincides with Eikanger-Bjørsvik's stunning recording Tales and Stories, being named as the 4Barsest CD of 2006; coincidental because it just so happens that Flaten is of course Eikanger's star solo euphonium player.

The sheer originality of Eikanger's programme on Tales and Stories, or more accurately two programmes as created for the band's performances at the 2001 and 2003 Siddis Brass Entertainment contest, is every bit as innovative as Grimethorpe's Elgar Howarth choreographed creation at the Granada Band of the Year way back in the distant days of the early 1980's yet a good deal more inspired in the choice of music; and hereby lies the point. We in the UK can learn much from our friends in Norway in terms of inventive programme building and the natural integration into our programming of widely diverse musical styles.

It is a point that Tormod Flaten demonstrates to telling effect on this, his second solo CD release. A good deal of the arranging talent is Norwegian home grown and again in common with Tales and Stories, draws on folk music and myth as well as Norwegian popular music, taking in along the way national hero Edvard Grieg, American David Gillingham and Martin Ellerby to name but three. Yet despite the apparent stylistic gulf between the works included, the journey for the listener is never less than fascinating and makes for an exceptionally satisfying musical experience. Think of the old analogy of the three course meal, a tasty appetizer with the meat course in the middle and a sweet to finish and you won't be too far from the overall effect.

The meat in the middle is without doubt provided by Martin Ellerby's substantial and hugely taxing Euphonium Concerto. This is a big boned work in every sense, cast in four contrasting movements, each of which is a tour de force in its own right with an extended slow movement that is clearly the emotional heart of the work. Ellerby's own lucid and comprehensive programme notes on each movement are reproduced in the accompanying booklet and are well worth reading prior to an initial listen.

Flaten's enthusiasm for the work is in evidence throughout, his playing a model of technical excellence with stunning clarity of articulation matched by real artistry and musicality in the rhapsodic slow movement. Given that Ellerby places almost equal technical demands on the band it would be unfair not to mention the sterling assistance provided by Eikanger who are quite simply exemplary in their accompaniment. The composer acknowledges a quote from Joseph Horovitz's fine Euphonium Concerto in the third movement (Ellerby was a one time student of Horovitz) although it's a bit of fun picking up on the other fleeting glimpses that often fly by at speed in the remaining three movements, we reckon amongst them Philip Sparke, Edward Gregson and perhaps more surprisingly William Walton, particularly in the opening Fantasy.           

The name of American David Gillingham may not be overly familiar to European audiences although he has written extensively for wind ensemble as well as various other genres. Flaten's choice of Gillingham's Vintage to open the disc could be considered slightly surprising given the work's restrained opening although the shrewdness of his decision soon comes through as the work develops into a substantial and melodically appealing showpiece.

This is one of three works with accompaniment provided by the excellent Bergen Symphonic Band under Martin Winter and once again, Flaten is the master of the demands placed on him. Take a listen to the extended two and a half minute cadenza towards the end of the work and you will see what we mean. It's highly enjoyable stuff and it would be good to hear it taken up by other master practitioners of the instrument with brass band accompaniment.

The other most substantive piece on offer musically is Craig Farr's Sonata de Camera, scored for solo euphonium with percussion accompaniment provided by Farr himself. Here we head into a more adventurous contemporary soundworld of angular lines that eventually soften into music of gentler lyricism at the heart of the piece. Farr and Flaten are close friends and no doubt worked closely together during the composition of the piece. It tells in that Flaten's ease with the language is effortless, the mark of a musician of true flexibility.

Whilst the remaining pieces are more accessible in terms of style, they are no less well chosen as vehicles of Flaten's musicality and virtuosity. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of Edvard Grieg to the Norwegian nation with Bergen able to lay claim to having brought up the nation's most famous musical son.

The touchingly appealing and well known melody of Ved Rundarne (trust us, you'll know it when you hear it!) is a homage to the beauty of the Rondane National Park and comes from the same cycle of songs as the more often heard Last Spring. Flaten's response to the nuances of the gentle melody is clear, as is the quality and control of his sustained playing. Frode Thingnæs's Daydream provides an excursion into the gentler side of jazz, whilst I Himmelen (In Heaven) is a traditional Norwegian hymn tune treated to a sensitive and imaginative arrangement by Svein Giske and matched by euphonium playing of equal sensitivity by Flaten.

Although Tormod Flaten describes Sigvart Dagsland's Michelangelo as a pop song in his booklet note it is not perhaps what we in the UK would categorize in that particular genre. Indeed to do so would be to understate the quality of the melodic invention. Reflective yet simple in nature, this is another piece that works well for the lyrical side of Flaten's personality, contrasting dramatically with Ellerby's Euphonium Concerto and Ermanno Picchi's Fantaisie Originale that lie either side of it on the disc.

The melodic material of the Fantaisie is thought to be the work of Italian Picchi, although it was Simone Mantia, one time trombonist in Sousa's band, not to mention the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, who made the piece famous on his double-bell euphonium. It's a barnstormer of an Air Varie and we can only marvel at the player Mantia must have been if he even came close to the skills that Tormod Flaten displays here.

In terms of repertoire this is one of the most intelligently put together solo discs that you are likely to hear in quite a while. Tormod Flaten stands alongside the very best exponents of his instrument and with the able accompaniment of Eikanger-Bjørsvik and Bergen Symphonic Winds the outcome is an irresistible disc that is not likely to stray too far from our CD player for some time to come.

Christopher Thomas

What's on this CD?

Vintage (Gillingham)
Ved Rondane (Grieg arr. Aamodt)
Daydream (Thingnaes)
Sonata de Camera (Farr)
I Himmelen (Trad arr. Giske)
Euphonium Concerto (Ellerby)
Michelangelo (Dagsland arr. Rydland)
Fantaisie Originale (Picchi/Mantia arr. Antrobus)

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