CD cover - AudaciousAudacious

20-Jul-2008

Steven Mead dons the crampons and wields the icepick to tackle some of the last remaining fearsome high peaks for the euphonium.

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Audacious
Steven Mead
Accompanied by Tomoko Sawano
Bocchino Recordings: BOCC11
Total Playing Time: 84. 54

Audacious is the latest solo release from the ever inventive Steven Mead – and an apt title it is too.

Not content with exploring the exotic musical margins like a latter day Marco Polo as he has done in the past, this time he has done an Reinhold Messner and decided to go all vertical – or in this case, set off with crampons and ice pick and tackled some of the last great peaks of euphonium repertoire left to successfully conquer.   

To top it all, just like Messner in fact, he has decided to do it without the aid of an extensive back up team of a band of brass sherpas too . This is euphonium playing pared to the bare essentials: performer, instrument, accompanist.

Centrepiece

The centrepiece is the fearsome Linkola ‘Euphonium Concerto’, a treacherous crest of technical and musical brilliance that has claimed the lives of many a celebrated euphonium star since it was composed in 1995. Not only is it incredibly musically taxing, it is also perhaps the most physically draining concerto of modern times too.

Powerful rhythmic patterns are paired with elastic lyrical passages, awesome dynamic features linked to lung bursting extremities of range. For the true virtuosi it is rightly regarded as the ‘Everest’ of its genre, tackled by many, conquered by few.  Mead digs deep into his musical resources and emerges triumphant astride its summit after delivering a quite superb performance of nuance and daring.

If the ascent of the Linkola was not enough, the descent is taken via an equally difficult ridge of technical accomplishment with Peter Graham’s cleverly realised, ‘In League with Extraordinary Gentlemen’.

Penchant

The composer has a bit of a penchant for taking inspiration from the late Victorian appetite for the weird and wonderful tales of daring so and early science fiction writing.

Here we get three musical references to some of the great literary phenomena of the age (rather than the American inspired capers of Allan Quatermain, Doctor Jekyll and friends in the comic book series of the late 1990s).

First up is HG Wells and his foray into time travel, followed by Sherlock Holmes in reflective mood in the Swiss Alps and finally, Phineas Fogg racing against the clock in his efforts to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Contrasting, richly inventive and full of an authentic sense of melodrama, it a cracking work, played with just the right degree of bravura by the soloist.

Showcase works

With these two major works filling close to 50 minutes of playing time, the second disc is given over to four showcase works. Although not written on the same epic scale as the Linkola or Graham, they do however pose just as many varied challenges for the soloist to overcome.

Reserve

The lollipop ‘Hungarian Melodies’ is a chance for Mead to unwind with a display of Magyar inspired virtuosity that he delivers with an authentic style of goulash inspired vividness and lustre. Meanwhile, the closing Tchaikovsky inspired ‘Valse – Scherzo’ is an enjoyable old romp of a piece delivered with sparkling clarity, whilst there is a finely tuned complement in Gliere’s darkly hued ‘Impromptu’, originally written for bassoon, but laid out with an acute sense of stylistic understanding and reserve.

In between there is the interesting ‘Mosaique’ by Roger Boutry, a delightful four movement work of eclectic though process on a jazz inspired foundation, and a new work from the pen of young Hungarian composer Roland Szentpali.

Puzzling

Dedicated to the soloist, the three movement work is a daring mix of invention with a ambitious sense of style that at times is puzzling, yet always engaging.  We may well hear more of him in years to come.

There is little doubt that the title of this latest release sums Steven Mead up to a tee as a performer, and sees him on the very top of his form throughout. A special mention must also go to the accompanist Tomoko Sawano who is a delightful counterpoint throughout with her precise, detailed and colourful playing.

Add to that the excellent quality of the recording and post production process and you have a release that confirms that Steven Mead still has the unquestioned ability to conquer even the most fearsome of high musical peaks for the euphonium - with or without the help of a team of sherpas and oxygen....

Iwan Fox

What's on this CD?

DISC 1
Euphonium Concerto, Jukka Linkola
In League With Extraordinary Gentlemen (Concerto for Euphonium), Peter Graham

DISC 2
Hungarian Melodies, Vincent Bach arr. Brasch
Mosaique, Roger Boutry
Impromptu Op.35, No.9, Reinhold Gliere, arr. Vertommen
Sketches 1998 for Euphonium and Piano, Roland Szentpali
Valse Scherzo Op.34, Tchaikovsky arr. Vertommen


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