CD cover - CelebrationCelebration

9-Oct-2007

Robert Childs
Accompanied by L’Orchestra Philharmonic du Luxembourg; Conservatoire d’Esch–sur-Alzette
Conductor: Fred Harles
Doyen Recordings: CD DOY183
Total Playing Time: 79.10

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How would you like to celebrate your 50th birthday? A trip to Barcelona to see the sights and watch a game of footy at the Nou Camp? Hire a Lamborghini and take the good lady for a romantic drive to Le Manoir aux Quatre Saison for an expensive meal perhaps? Or, what about just putting your feet up with a few beers and a natter about things past with the lads?

You could however, put your hard earned reputation as one of the true greats of the euphonium on the line by playing four of the most demanding concerti and a taxing concertino instead. Perhaps Robert Childs has already done all of the first three, because instead of a pleasant visit, top notch meal or even drive in a very fast car he has decided to make sure his 50th year (and very nearly all of them involved in brass bands) is remembered for posterity by doing just that.

It is a quite remarkable achievement too, given that he stopped being a full time banding exponent of the instrument at the turn of the Millennium when he took up the conducting duties at the Cory Band, but somehow he has managed to keep his lip in quite amazing shape ever since.  He has of course made occasional ‘cameo’ appearances, and at pretty high profile events too, but to maintain this level of performance is quite something. It’s a bit like Lance Armstrong coming back after a few years of riding to work on his bike and winning the Tour de France again.

He has been careful on this release to ensure that he has paced himself though – perhaps a thoughtful concession to age. The studio recordings took place throughout 2005 and 2006, whilst the live performance of the Wilby Concerto was undertaken in September last year (although just a fortnight after the British Open, so how he got his own practice in between band rehearsals took some doing.) The results are performances of rare musicality – wonderfully mature in the right musical sense of the word.   

Each of the works reveals as much about the development of the euphonium as a true concerto instrument as it does of the performer himself.

The Horovitz Concerto remains a benchmark of excellence: Elegant and lyrical it has aged with grace and tasteful patina. It’s classical construction meanders gently, with impeccable style and understated beauty, and although not overtly technical by today’s pyrotechnical standards it still asks much of the performer. All the questions here are answered in full.

So too with Kenneth Downie’s Concerto, written for Robert Childs in 2000 in his last year as Principal Euphonium with Black Dyke. Open, warm and tuneful (it is subtitled ‘Eulogy for Euphonium) it really does exploit the lyrical qualities of the instrument and of the performer. Robert Childs reveals his ability to lighten the tonal quality of the instrument in the opening Allegro, and subtly darken its timbre in the second movement Andante.  The finale, marked Vivace is brief, bright and breezy with just the right amount of hoop jumping to satisfy any would be euphonium circus performer. It is a very high-class performance.

The late John Golland is a much missed compositional voice for brass and his Concerto reminds the listener of his latent ability to harness his deep emotional musicality. Cleverly constructed (the opening 11 notes are a cipher for his name) it never becomes pretentious, whilst his skill in exploring differing idioms in the music makes for a constantly evolving work. Written for the performer back in 1981 it combines both the bravura and the darkly reflective, and is given a superbly emotive account.

Rodney Newton’s Concertino is a super piece of musical delicacy. Written once more for the performer and dedicated to the conductor (who was also celebrating his 60th birthday in 2007) it has the feel of a work ideally suited to the euphonium as a soloist with chamber orchestra. That it works so well here with brass accompaniment is down to excellent work by Fred Harles and his Conservatoire d’Esch-sur-Alzette (who are in pretty good form throughout) and the soloist who captures that feeling of vibrant lightness throughout. 

Finally, the live performance of the Wilby Concerto, which is delivered in scorching fashion. Wilby’s Concerto works particularly well for orchestral accompaniment (the detail and especially colour of his complex score comes through wonderfully). Each of the movements comes thrillingly to life (especially the Dance Zeibekikos) and the only let down is the somewhat apathetic applause from the audience at the end. It is a performance that deserved to bring the roof off, instead of the polite appreciation we hear. 

Reaching 50 is something of a milestone in anyone’s life. Reaching it in such splendid fashion as this is also a milestone to be very proud of too. Robert Childs has much to celebrate in more ways than one.

Iwan Fox.

What's on this CD?

1. Concerto for Euphonium (Eulogy), Kenneth Downie, Conservatoire d'Esch-sur-Alzette, 13.23
2. Euphonium Concerto, Joseph Horovitz, Conservatoire d'Esch-sur-Alzette, 16.30
3. Concertino, Rodney Newton, Conservatoire d'Esch-sur-Alzette, 9.30
4. Euphonium Concerto No. 1 Op.64, John Golland, Conservatoire d'Esch-sur-Alzette, 18.13
5. Concerto for Euphonium Philip Wilby, l'Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, 20.30

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