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RNCM Euphonium & Baritone Ensemble

2019 RNCM Brass Band Festival
Conductors: Steven Mead & Dr David Thornton
Carole Nash Recital Room
RNCM Manchester
Friday 25th January

The current crop of international euphonium and baritone under-graduates provided an engaging, if occasionally uneven, prelude to the RNCM Festival.

Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen's 'Lokk from the Green Island' was a spatial euphonium duet reminiscent of Howard Snell's evocative 'The Old Chalet'; the echoes of the shepherds' distant calls across an empty fjord to their wandering stock met by a faint shake of chiming acknowledgement from the bells around bovine necks. 

There was also something reminiscent about 'Four Golden Bells' by Denis Armitage - especially on hearing the opening bars of falling chromaticism on John McCabe's 'Salamander' played by Foden's later in the evening. Compactly balanced, the introductory fanfares grew in complex intensity to a bold conclusion. 

Touchstone

It was followed by the familiar rich harmonies of James Olcott's arrangement of 'Shenandoah' - a touchstone piece of romantic mid-west musical imagery of wide open plains and the American Dream played out on a John Ford cinematic canvas. 

Both Steven Mead and Dr David Thornton are renowned as performers who seek out challenging repertoire (especially admirable given the rather limited sound palette of an ensemble made up of 11 euphoniums and 2 baritones). 

Here it came with Ben McMillan's vivid cityscape sounds of what could have been 1950's downtown New York. 

'Rush Hour' had a feverish sense of urban impatience and stress; sweaty Bronx commuters yelling colourful obscenities and beeping horns at each other in forlorn bids to get home through packed streets - the faint exotic sounds of a Blues nightclub already hanging in the fetid air. 

'Rush Hour' had a feverish sense of urban impatience and stress; sweaty Bronx commuters yelling colourful obscenities and beeping horns at each other in forlorn bids to get home through packed streets - the faint exotic sounds of a Blues nightclub already hanging in the fetid air. 

40 winks

More American segues came with a touching rendition of Rene Clausen's choral work, 'Set Me As A Seal' arranged with tender care by Ken Williamson; its reflective passion inspired by 'Song of Solomon 8' - 'Longing for her Beloved' - which speaks of the permanence and security of love. 

Meanwhile, the troubling REM sleep patterns of Gail Roberston's 'A Eupher's Dream' must certainly involved something to do with an affinity to Bach - although which one of the family would perhaps have to be explained by a musical psychiatrist. It was well worth its 40 winks though. 

There were also a few moments of subconscious Bach concern that surfaced in Donald Hunsberger's arrangement of the great 'Passacaglia in C Minor' to close, but given that the complexities of his mastery of the form tax even the greatest ensembles in the world, the talented RNCM students did a fine job. 

Iwan Fox 

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