CD cover - Rococo VariationsRococo Variations

8-Dec-2009

The inveterate explorer goes down the Rococo path for his latest release, even if it may need an '18 only' certificate in places...

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Steven Mead
Whitburn Band
Bocchino Recordings: CDBOCC114
Total Playing Time: 73.57

You just can’t keep Steven Mead out of the limelight.

This latest release is another high profile affair that once again puts his hard earned reputation as a world class performer on the line – this time with a selection of repertoire that demands as much of him as it does the informed listener.  

It is a rewarding experience too.

Musical explorer

An inveterate musical explorer, ‘Rococo Variations’ sees him open up yet another musical route of rich, inventive material: diverse stop off points of Saint Saens and Tchaikovsky, Massenet and Bizet, Deronge, Richards, Graham and Gillingham – helped in no small measure by the skilful arrangements of Luc Vertommen.  

Accompanying him on this particular journey is the Whitburn Band, on good form too, playing with restraint and style, precision and technical nous, whilst the overall package has the usual high class post production values – from Richard Scott’s excellent recording work to the comprehensive and informative sleeve notes.     

Enticing

Although the release bears the Rococo title not all the works derive from this musical genre of delicacy and elegance. However, the balance of styles is every bit as enticing and beautifully realised in execution.

The opening track is a joyous romp of technical fun and games – Saint-Saens dynamic ‘Allegro Appassionato’, originally written for cello, but something of a perfect match for the nimble, facile approach of the soloist.

That is followed by the haunting, ‘The Song of the Birds’, a bleak, austere folk song of cold beauty, played with evocative simplicity.

Immense

The major work of the release comes with the immense ‘Variations on a Rococo Theme Opus 33’ by Tchaikovsky, masterfully arranged by Luc Vertommen.

This really is a tour de force, and not just in terms of stamina and amply lives up to the ‘Rococo’ term. This is ‘rockwork’ of subtle variation, malleable in texture, full of nuance and wit, delicately moulded and phrased. It is performed with stylish appreciation and is a remarkable piece of inventiveness.

Contrast

In contrast the trio of items that follow are a curious mix - but refreshingly so.

The Deronge ‘Walking on Music’ demands a lyrical sense of control only the very best soloists can deliver (and we are not disappointed here), whilst the Gillingham ‘Vintage’, is a highly inventive, if ever so slightly odd bit of pastiche homage – from mock Bernstein to Europop. 

Mix

The typically melodic ‘Pilatus’ (a mountain overlooking Lucerne rather than a mix of Biblical Roman Governor meets middle class exercise regime) by Goff Richards is equally original, if not quite as oblique in construction.  The rather sugary textures never quite stir deep waters in the emotional core though, despite the soloists cultured phrasing and warm tonality.

Peter Graham’s ‘Canaan’s Land’ was originally written for the ISB’s top euphonium star Derick Kane as a triptych showcase. The source material is cleverly realised, but in Steven’s hands there is an extra touch of non conformist zip and mischief in what is a bravura performance.

Sultry

So too the final items that round off the release – a lovely rendition of the popular, ‘The Last Sleep of the Virgin’ and a real old sultry bit of cigar rolling sensuality in ‘Carmen Fantasy’ – which swaggers with a fiery undercurrent of destructive femininity that attracts weak men to ladies with loose morals likes moths to a flame.

It should come with an 18 only certificate.

Iwan Fox

What's on this CD?

1. AllegroAppasionato Op. 43, Saints-Saens arr. Vertommen, 3.38
2. The Song of the Birds, Trad arr. Vertommen, 4.05
3. Variations on a Rococo Theme Op. 33, Tchaikovsky arr. Ruedi, 17.26
4. Walking on Music, Roger Deronge, 6.09
5. Vintage, Gillingham arr. Briggs, 9.00
6. Pilatus, Goff Richards, 7.05
7. Canaan's Land, Peter Graham, 9.14
8. The Last Sleep of the Virgin, Massenet arr. Vertommen, 4.13
9. Carmen Fantasy, Bizet arr. Vertommen, 10.18

Total CD running time: 73.57

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