CD review: the sun is free to flow with the sea

Onyx Brass
NMC Recordings: NMC D276

Onyx Brass deliberately sends a musical projectile into the brass quintet future with their latest recording. Although celebrating their 30th anniversary, in essence it is a reaffirmation of a founding ethos delivered with a payload of repertoire targeting new horizons.

The ambition is every bit as bold as anything accomplished in the past three decades – triggered by the blazon that fires the trumpet sound of Alan Thomas on the opening ‘Fanfare for Broadway Tower’  – a beacon call of optimism. 

Intricate patterns

Only one piece is a designated as a traditional ‘brass quintet’ – Simon Dobson’s expressive triptych homage to Gregson, Bourgeois and Arnold which weaves its intricate patterns of appreciation through both its oblique (with hints to Elgar Howarth) and more transparent reference points.  

Alongside Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘ONYX30’  – a superb four movement suite of distinctive character identity, rich and evocative, they provide the stanchion points from which compact works from Roxanna Panufnik, Zoe Martlew, Yshani Perinpanayagam, Errollyn Wallen, Charlotte Harding, Bobbie-Jane Gardner and Emily Hall shoot off in satellite explorations.

These are composers who also share the Onyx Brass ethos (some have worked with the group before, others have long been admired) of inventive curiosity.  

Stark contrast

Martlew’s ‘Kiss, Kiss’  is a witty, free-thinking oddity – musical McGonagall meets air powered theatrics, which stands in stark contrast to the darker, corrosive feel to Perinpanayagam’s ‘Music for My Stolen Breath’,  a reflection on an acidic personal experience that was anything but joyous.  

There is a tender wonkiness to ‘Up on the toes’ (the slippery stair dance)  by Bobbie-Jane Gardner – like two socially awkward wannabe lovers stumbling into each other with eyes-down shyness desperate to linger in momentary embrace rather than lasting evasion. 

Errollyn Wallen’s ‘ONYX’  tribute to both the quintet and film maker Mike Hodges is a plaintive postscript addendum that engages with poignant immediacy (and yearns to be extended in scope). It in turn is balanced by the spikey, furtive restlessness of New York street life in Charlotte Harding’s ‘Rhombus’.

Eyes-down shyness

There is a tender wonkiness to ‘Up on the toes’ (the slippery stair dance)  by Bobbie-Jane Gardner – like two socially awkward wannabe lovers stumbling into each other with eyes-down shyness desperate to linger in momentary embrace rather than lasting evasion. 

Two works by Emily Hall inpired by the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud closes things with atmospheric candour.

‘Blackcurrant River’  meanders hypnotically through a strange landscape of unknowing melancholy (of which the poet was prone) whilst ‘Eternity’  (originally written for voice but transcribed for two flugel horns and French horn – and from which the release takes its title) echoes with other-worldly emptiness and detachment.

Iwan Fox

To purchase: https://onyxbrass.co.uk/the-sun-is-free-to-flow-with-the-sea/

Play list:

1. Fanfare for Broadway Tower (Roxanna Panufnik) 
2. Kiss, Kiss (Zoë Martlew) 

3-6. ONYX30 (Mark-Anthony Turnage) 

7. Music for My Stolen Breath (Yshani Perinpanayagam) 
8. ONYX (Errollyn Wallen) 
9. Rhombus (Charlotte Harding) 

10-12. Brass Quintet No. 1 (Simon Dobson)

13. Up on the toes (the slippery stair dance) (Bobbie-Jane Gardner) 
14. Blackcurrant River (Emily Hall)
15. Eternity (Emily Hall)

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