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A4 Brass Quartet

The Bradshaw Hall
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Birmingham
Monday 14th January 2019

The concert market place for brass ensemble groups is both crowded and competitive.  

Talent alone doesn’t guarantee success; it’s also the hard yards invested in hours of practice time and presentation that gains critical acclaim and promotional profile.

And nothing was more obvious to the students of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire as they listened to this concert, and who had earlier provided their own tantalising glimpse of their future potential in taking part in the Bernard Brown Brass Ensemble Prize. 

Collective talent

Messrs Bates, Smith, Cavanagh and Robertson showed them just what it takes to bridge the divide between under-graduate aspiration and professional engagement with a display of focussed endeavour to back collective talent.   

The two halves of high quality playing comprised 15 diverse works - from original compositions to testing arrangements, ambitious digressions to solid exhibitions of technique and musicality. Each was presented with an admirable level of professionalism.

From the opening ‘Toccata 4’ to the closing ‘Mists of the Mountain’ (both written by Jonathan Bates) it was a showcase of polished, inventive accomplishment - bookending items from Bruckner, Bartok, Bach and Grainger, as well as some not so well known sources such as Kentaro Sato’s beautiful ‘Tsunangari’, Jared McCunnie’s touching ‘Just Cause’ and Daniel Hall’s darkly murderous ‘Black Dahlia’.  

The two halves of high quality playing comprised 15 diverse works - from original compositions to testing arrangements, ambitious digressions to solid exhibitions of technique and musicality. Each was presented with an admirable level of professionalism.

Uplifting

Less successful as quartet arrangements perhaps were Smetana’s overture to ‘The Bartered Bride’ and Martin Ellerby’s ‘Electra Dances’, which despite the virtuoso technique still made their distilled busyness sound like the equivalent of trying to pour a pint of expertly brewed beer into a shot glass.   

Much more impressive however was Bramwell Tovey’s uplifting excerpt from his ‘Street Songs’, which hung nicely with part of Oliver Waespi’s ‘South Uist Variations’, whilst the deliberately buzzing annoyance of ‘Moskito’ by Thomas Doss contrasted neatly with the relaxed uneven beat of Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’.

‘Amparito Roca’ provided the sugar boost encore to an evening of musical substance and presentational excellence.

Iwan Fox

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BA (hons), PGDip (RCM), ARCM, ALCM
Conductor, piano accompanist and educator