'Diamonds' has enabled Steven Mead to fulfil a long-standing ambition to record with the Central Band of the Royal Air Force.
Both the soloist and the ensemble have gained well deserved reputations for musical excellence and on this showing the combination enhances their hard won credentials even further.
Colourful and precise
The four major works included are all new; written specifically for euphonium and wind orchestra, with each composer producing colourful, precise accompaniments to support the solo voice.
‘Diamond Concerto’ is Philip Sparke’s third euphonium concerto, written specifically to reflect the soloist’s mature musicality as well as his ingrained technical excellence.
The opening ‘Earth Star’ opens with a quasi-improvised solo line over sustained chords and subtle woodwind embellishments, whilst ‘Ocean Dawn’ cleverly utilises a theme from the composer’s virtuoso work, ‘Music for Battle Creek’ – a piece Steven knows well as a performer with the all star American brass band.
‘Blue Heart’ introduces an attractive jazz waltz style; the saxophone section switching into Squadronaire mood with an effective call and response passage between soloist and upper woodwinds.
Hermann Pallhuber’s ‘Bliss’ is a two-part concertino in which the opening highlights the instrument’s melodic side, showing off Steven’s expressive tonality to fine effect.
In contrast, the dynamic second section is full of verve and rhythmic interest, exploring the full range of the instrument with plenty of octave and double-octave leaps, not to mention numerous flowing runs and fierce trills.
Stephen Roberts was inspired to write his concerto after hearing the current high standard of the new generation of budding euphonium stars in a series of examinations he was invigilating – all ‘Mini-Meads’ so to speak.
The original though is on splendid ‘maximum’ form, displaying such cultured musicality in his treatment of what is essentially the song of a blackbird in the composer’s garden.
The calmer second movement features a sustained solo line arching slowly over changing chords, whilst the lively finale is in the form of a Mexican ‘Huapango’, that dances with fleet footed brilliance between alternating duple and triple metres; the bright, chattering interplay leading to a virtuosic finish.
David Gillingham’s ‘Summer of 2008’ is a three-movement concerto for euphonium, wind and percussion.
‘Changing Weather’ is built around a four-note motif; the composer transposing and developing a series of short phrases, without it seeming fragmented.
In contrast, ‘Wondrous Night’ places great demands on the soloist, with its elongated phrases allowing Steven the opportunity to display his controlled stamina without losing the sense of expressive flow: It’s magical playing.
‘Festivals’ mixes elements of circus music with the spikiness of Shostakovich - the sleeve notes referring to the latter’s ‘Folk Dances’, although there are also references to his ‘Festive Overture’.
Completing the release is Robin Dewhurst’s ‘Panache’, premiered by Steven with the Sun Life Band at the 1994 Tuba and Euphonium Conference in Birmingham.
An accessible work of free flowing purpose and endeavour it is performed with a perfect interpretation of its title.
Top of their game
‘Diamonds’ is a fresh, engaging musical partnership between instrumentalist and ensemble, both of whom are at the top of their game, whilst the experienced direction of Wing Commander Stubbs allows for subtle, sympathetic accompaniment throughout.
Each performance of the major works is a showcase of excellence that engages the listener from start to finish.
To say this is a highly recommended release is almost a superfluous comment.
1. Diamond Concerto, (Euphonium Concerto No. 3), Philip Sparke
(i) Earth Star, 5.26
(ii) Ocean Dream, 6.26
(iii) Blue Heart, 3.56
2. Bliss, (Concertino for Euphonium), Hermann Pallhuber, 11.17
3. Euphonium Concerto, Stephen Roberts
(i) Allegro Moderato, 9.01
(ii) Lento, 5.40
(iii) Huapango, 4.46
4. Concerto for Euphonium, Winds and Percussion (Summer of 2008), David Gillingham
(i) Changing Weather, 6.14
(ii) Wondrous Starry Night, 6.30
(iii) Festivals, 6.33
5. Panache, Robin Dewhurst, 5.56