Owen Farr’s extraordinary talent is immensely entertaining.
So whilst a two-hour tenor horn recital on a busy Friday afternoon in central London might not seem like the most enticing prospect, a rare opportunity to listen to him perform certainly is.
An international audience (visitors from Canada, Norway and the Netherlands claimed seats), were also drawn in by Youtube hits of Mendelssohn’s ‘Violin’ and Haydn’s ‘Cello’ concerti.
We were presented with a programme in two halves.
First - traditional solos commencing with a stupendous rendition of ‘Napoli’. Even those who know the ‘natural’ range and capability of a brass instrument would have been amazed how ‘Farr’ he can take things.
It led into an enjoyable historical presentation of the soloists of Sousa’s great band, as concert hall became lecture theatre. Entertaining, engaging and hugely informative, we learned of Clarke, Mantia, Pryor, Bellstedt and Kryl, whilst being treated to a performance of each of their greatest solo works.
This was Farr as the ultimate exponent of his craft - a player Sousa himself would have been eager to sign. It was astonishing playing: Even within the context of the lecture presentation, his showboating could only be received merely as a form of modest demonstration.
‘Blue Bells of Scotland' was the pick - with more leaps between extreme register than could be imagined physically possible.
At one stage, there was even nod to trumpet virtuoso Allen Vizzutti - borrowing the trademark spinning trick and applying it to a tenor horn ‘waggle’ midway through an extended triple tonguing passage!
New and recent
The second half was a showcase of new and recent repertoire - some taken from his acclaimed CD recording ‘A New Dawn’, such as ‘Dragon Dances’, by Andrew Baker.
A lyrical interlude in David Harrington’s warming ‘Romance’ followed, before his virtuosic accompanist Chris Williams turned composer, to introduce his own ‘Elegy - In memory of Mervyn Burtch’, and soloist, in his own adaptation of Gershwin’s ‘Piano Concerto No.2 - Mvt II’, with Farr’s horn taking on the original trumpet and orchestral accompaniment.
After this tender central section, Williams again turned soloist in Billy Mayerl’s aptly named ‘The Nimble Fingered Gentleman’ - a performance every bit as fizzingly brilliant as any by his Welsh compatriot.
To conclude a highly entertaining afternoon they combined to perform Paul Sharman’s ‘You Love Me’, in a performance dedicated to the memory of Owen Farr’s grandfather.