CD cover - Basso Bravissimo!Basso Bravissimo!

10-Aug-2008

Steve Sykes is on red hot form with his latest release - with a bit of international help. Bravo indeed!

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Steve Sykes (tuba)
Brass Band de Bazuin Oenkerk
The Royal Norwegian Navy Band 
Conductor: Nigel Boddice
Richard Phillips (piano)
Egon: SFZ 138 CD
Total playing time: 61.47 mins
 

The sound of the tuba can be very difficult to capture in a recording, and Steve Sykes’ previous solo recording, “Sykology”, did not seem to do justice to his rich, full sound. All the more reason, then, to welcome this new disc, in which he is supported by Brass Band de Bazuin Oenkerk, Richard Phillips on piano, and The Royal Norwegian Navy Band. 

The last named are featured in Michael Brand’s “Four Temperaments for Tuba”, the recording having previously appeared on “Dreams and Fancies”, although as this consisted of exclusively wind band repertoire it may have escaped the notice of many brass band aficionados.

No complaints

No complaints about the sound this time, and although tracks were recorded at various times and in various locations, the disc blends together very well. The programme, too, is well chosen to showcase the various elements of Steve’s technique, from his dexterity in coping with fast, intricate passages through to the long, sustained phrases of the slower numbers. 

There are even a couple of multi-tracked items, where the recording techniques involved in no way inhibit the musicality of the performances.

The opening item, Darrol Barry’s “Impromptu for Tuba”, encompasses both technical wizardry and also some fine legato playing in the middle section. The accompaniment from Brass Band de Bazuin Oenkerk, presumably under their regular conductor, Klaas van der Woude, is sympathetic and supports the soloist well.

Smooth

Richard Phillips’ setting of the Irish folk song “The Meeting of the Waters” was written especially for Steve, the two performing it at one of the short pre-results concerts following the National Finals in the Royal Albert Hall. The smooth solo line is made to flow along apparently quite effortlessly, full of expression and style, belying the hard work required to produce such an effect.

There are several fine exponents of the tuba in jazz, and with his own duet arrangement of “Pick Yourself Up” Steve shows that he too is quite comfortable in the big band style. The playing sounds spontaneous and relaxed, and conveys a real sense of fun, as does his later performance of “Sweet Georgia Brown”.

Flexibility

Denzil Stephens was (and probably still is!) a notable performer on the euphonium, and he demonstrates his skill at writing for the instrument in the attractive “Rondino”, which Steve Sykes has adapted for tuba. Following some fine high register playing at the start, the catchy rondo theme and interludes in the second movement display his flexibility to good effect.

Drigo’s “Serenade” offers the opportunity for more cantabile playing, and as Derick Kane points out in the sleeve note, “. . . never makes you think ‘Is that suitable for the instrument?’” This really is slow melody playing at its finest.

Joy and melancholy

In Leslie Condon’s “Radiant Pathway” there are again two Steves for the price of one as he performs both solo parts. Written for EEb and BBb bass soloists, and originally recorded by the composer with George Whittingham, parts are supplied for various combinations of euphonium and tubas. It is a very individual piece, with its mix of joy and melancholy, and unexpected syncopations and twists which can easily catch out both band and soloists. 

Steve brings out the full range of emotions, particularly in the soaring central melody, with the two parts blending well together, although this reviewer did miss the particular frisson that comes from a BBb tuba playing in its highest register.

Dazzling

One is accustomed to the larger brass instruments occasionally tackling works from the repertoire of the violin, but these tend to be dazzling display items rather than slow melodies. Steve, however, opts to play “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, managing to convey beautifully the vision of the austere, winter landscape.

Next, Steve raids the cornet pad with Herbert L Clarke’s “The Bride of the Waves”. With the piano accompaniment allowing all the details to emerge clearly, Steve rattles through the variations with clean articulation and musical phrasing. 

Stratosphere

The excursion into the stratosphere at the end is quite spectacular, as he shows that not only can he hit such ridiculously high notes, but he can sustain them as well.

The final item in the recital, accompanied by The Royal Norwegian Navy Band under Nigel Boddice, is Michael Brand’s “Four Temperaments for Tuba”. Written in response to a request by Steve for a piece “...with display elements, accessible to good players and tuneful”, the music incorporates various styles, including a bluesy section and a challenging cadenza for the soloist. 

Command

Following the opening statement of the theme, Variation 1 is neo-classical, Variation 2 is in swing style with a big band backing, Variation 3 is contemplative, accompanied predominantly by the woodwind, and Variation 4 is a lively scherzo. Steve demonstrates his masterful command of the instrument, not least in the final bars, where he descends smoothly and abruptly from the highest register to a resounding pedal finish.

Highest quality

This is a recording of the highest quality, with a sensibly chosen programme that maintains the interest whether it is played in one go, or whether one is cherry-picking particular items. 

The engineers have succeeded in capturing the essence of Steve’s playing, both as regards to the actual sound produced and also the sense of exuberance which comes across in a live performance. 

Highly recommended, and not only for tuba fanatics.

Peter Bale

What's on this CD?

1. Impromptu for Tuba, Darrol Barry , 7.55
2. The Meeting of the Waters, Trad arr. Richard Phillips, 3.37
3. Pick Yourself Up, Jerome Kern arr. Steve Sykes, 3.01
4. Rondino, Denzil Stephens, 7.07
5. Serenade , Riccardo Drigo arr. Steve Sykes, 3.59
6. Radiant Pathway, Leslie Condon, 6.32
7. Sweet Georgia Brown, Maceo Pinkard arr. Steve Sykes, 3.19
8. Winter from 'The Four Seasons', Antonio Vivaldi arr. Howard Snell, 4.29
9. The Bride of the Waves, Herbert Lincoln Clarke, 7.03
10. Four Temperaments, Michael Brand, Royal Norwegian Navy Band 13.50

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