CD cover - KatrinaKatrina

14-Dec-2008

Is Katrina Marzella the performer to put the much maligned baritone back on the musical map? It's one heck of a job, but she might have done just that with her debut release.

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Katrina Marzella
Accompanied by Leyland Band, John Wilson (piano)
Conductors: Russell Gray, Jason Katsikaris
Egon Recordings: CD SFZ144
Total Playing Time: 65.22
 

Could Katrina Marzella be the player to reinvent the musical image of the much maligned baritone? On the evidence of this fine recording she could very well do just that and more.

The baritone is the quintessential brass band instrument – the very heartbeat of an institution that in its way has treated it with the same disdain the orchestral world has reserved for the viola.

Artisan

It has been the artisan’s instrument – neither glamorous enough to compete with the high profile of the euphonium, or refined in character to move in the same circles as the tenor horn.  Without it though the brass band would be lost.

There have of course been fine exponents of the instrument over the years, but none has made the impact on our collective consciousness as the delightful Katrina Marzella – an impact that first struck when she was awarded a BBC Fame Academy Bursary in 2006. 

Gifted and intelligent

An immensely gifted and intelligent player she has taken the opportunity that the award first afforded her with such alacrity and sense of purpose that she has become synonymous as one of the leading brass performers of her generation. 

Even more so, her innate musicianship has enabled her to stamp her individual mark on repertoire she has assiduously helped to promote and encourage.  As technically accomplished as any world class euphonium player and blessed with a sound of golden liquidity her impressive CV of solo achievements has been further enhanced by her desire to expand the scope of the baritone in new and exciting directions. She is a most complete performer. 

The evidence is for all to hear on this impressive release.

Confidence

Martin Ellerby’s ‘Concerto’ opens with a confident expression of intent. The contrasting movements allow the soloist to explore both the technical and musical extremes without losing the lyrical focus of the lighter textures that form its core. It is a wonderfully astute, elegant performance full of subtle values.

So too ‘Concerto per Flicorno Basso’ – a personal favourite of the soloist in recent years (used to win the British Open Solo Championship in 2006). Again, the lighter textures and timbres are moulded with a keen appreciation of style and sense of tasteful articulation.

Lollipops

As ever there must be a few ‘lollipops’, and there is a fine performance of the Eva Cassidy version of ‘Over the Rainbow’ that is as lyrically sentimental as it could be without ever becoming immersed in saccharin, and a calm, unhurried rendition of ‘The Swan’, which lacks for nothing in tonality and exquisite phrasing.     

That sense of exploration comes with ‘Pequena Czardas’, a light and breezy comic dance originally written for saxophone, as well as the haunting Rachmaninov ‘Lied’, which although lacking a true deep set angst is still delivered with moving lyricism.

Neatly expressed

Elsewhere the original compositions of Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s ‘Donegal Bay’ and Philip Harper’s ‘A Hebridean Lullaby’ are neatly expressed without recourse to the sugar coated pills of twee Celtic sentimentality – a hard task to pull off, but done so well here.

Playfulness

Finally, two pieces of contrasting Nordic inspiration. Torstein Aagaard –Nilsen’s furtive ‘Feber-Fantasi’ has a real sense of modern freethinking liberalism about itself, whilst David Popper’s ‘Elves’ Dance’ is a mischievous piece of spiteful playfulness that has a dark set humour as its musical backbone.  Both are given superbly crafted performances.

If there is a weakness in the overall quality of the release then it comes with the uneven accompaniment of the Leyland Band. Recorded over two periods some eight months apart, and under two different conductors, they do at times sound like two different bands.  There is some sloppy, heavy handed work that has been allowed to go unchecked at times, which does detract the focus from the solo voice on occasions.  

However, this is a minor irritation, as with excellent sleeve notes and some lovely images to go with the outstanding playing, Miss Marzella could well be on the way to fully restoring the baritone to its rightful place in our brass banding affections. 

Iwan Fox

What's on this CD?

Concerto for Baritone, Martin Ellerby
1. I. Fusions, 4.47
2. II. Soliloquy, 6.15
3. III. Tangents, 4.43
4. Donegal Bay, Paul Lovatt-Cooper, 4.35
5. Pequeña Czarda, Pedro Iturralde arr. van der Woude, 5.14
6. The Swan, Camille Saint-Saëns arr. Howard Snell, 3.14
7. Lied, Sergei Rachmaninov, 2.39
8. Elves' Dance, David Popper arr. Andrew Duncan, 3.21
9. A Hebridean Lullaby, Philip Harper, 5.16
10. Feber-Fantasi, Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen, 6.30
11. Concerto per Flicorno Basso Amilcare Ponchielli arr. Howey, 11.57
12. Over the Rainbow, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg arr. Cynthia Pules and Pippa Poutso, 5.35

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