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Handel to Valhalla

Ian Foster
Featuring: Low brass and piano accompaniments
Conductor: Richard Elliott
Wes Recordings: Wes001
Total Playing Time: 65.49

CD cover - Handel to Valhalla

This solo release really is something of a connoisseur’s delight.

Ian Foster explores a hinterland of repertoire for the tuba that reveals a performer of substantial musical intellect and technical prowess.

Diverse palette

He delivers from a diverse pallete of works by Stockhausen, Wagner and Strauss, Arnold, Hartley and Watson, plus a dab of Handel and Morricone with a subtle appreciation of style and the ability to colour the tuba’s timbre with the delicacy of a watercolour painter.

Foster is some player – even if, rather appropriately, he does bear an uncanny resemblance to historian and art critic Waldemar Januszczak. He certainly knows his musical onions.

It’s not showboat playing though: Instead, all 37 tracks have a showcase stamp of authenticity running through them like a stick of Blackpool rock.

Bombast 

The bombast and heroic declamations of excerpts from Wagner’s ‘Das Rheingold’, ‘Die Walkure’, ‘Siegfried’ and ‘Gotterdammerung’ are cracking examples of the soloist’s fine command of the orchestral tuba repertoire – played with a dark, fruity tonality that brings the troubled Gods of Bayreuth right into the heart of your living room.

Aided by excellent support from a low brass ensemble directed by Richard Elliott, the 15 bite sized snippets provide a tasty finger buffet finale to tempt the listener into ploughing straight into the mammoth main course delights of ‘The Ring’ – from Wotan and Siegfried to giants, dragons and a stop off in Valhalla along the way.

Deftness of touch

The soloist also provides contrasting interpretations of Edward Watson’s cultured, dry witted ‘Sonatina for Tuba and Piano’ – played with a deftness of touch and appreciation of elegant lyricism, and Walter Hartley’s more robust ‘Suite for Unaccompanied Tuba’.

Here, Foster illuminates the dignified, strongly developed sense of musicality with a snappy opening ‘Intrada’ followed by a free flowing ‘Valse’, softly sculpted ‘Air’ and purposeful ‘Galop’.

Curio

The Strauss ‘Horn Concerto No1’ is a bit of a curio it must be said – even if it does enable the soloist to display a lightness of touch and intuitive appreciation of style, whilst the cleverly realised ‘Oboe Sonata’ by Handel is a pot-pourri of urbane tastefulness.

If there is one track that does leave you rather puzzled it is Ennio Morricone’s ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ – which as countless other arrangers have found to their cost, is perhaps better left in its original setting, despite the soloist’s ability to bring out its melancholic beauty.

Delight

On the other hand, the one track that is an absolute delight is the surreal, ‘Tuba amongst flocks of birds and swarms of bees’ – a vivid delve into the ever so slightly bonkers world of Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Backed by electronic accompaniment, the 11 free association soli vignettes take you into the realms of abstruse ambiguity and potent radicalism. 

Foster revels in the risk taking jeopardy – emerging triumphant, the listener completely engrossed.

Neat

With many solo performers looking in vain to produce recordings with a unique selling point of interest, Ian Foster has shown that by concentrating on the musical substance , the add-ons (including a clear recording acoustic and informative sleeve notes) tend to fall neatly into place for good measure.

And on this welcome recording, you don’t really have to be a real connoisseur to appreciate that either.

Iwan Fox

Contents

1. Sonatina for Tuba and Piano, Edward Watson, 10.02
2. Suite for Unaccompanied Tuba, Walter Hartley, 5.08
3. Horn Concerto No.1, Richard Strauss, 13.56
4. Fantasy for Tuba, Malcolm Arnold, 4.08
5. Oboe Sonata in C Minor, George Frederic Handel, 6.30
6. Gabriel’s Oboe, Ennio Morricone, 2.35
7. Tuba Solo from Orchestra Finalists, Karlheinz Stockhausen, 4.24
8. Low Brass Excerpts from The Ring Cycle, Richard Wagner, 19.10

Total Playing Time: 65.49



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ARCM PGRNCM MFTCL ARCM B.Mus.
Composer and conductor