The 11+ Brass Ensemble and Guests


Hadleigh Temple,
Saturday 22nd May 2004

The 11+ Brass Ensemble, recently formed by a group of professional and semi professional musicians in the London area, gave their first public performance in support of the youth work undertaken at The Salvation Army, Hadleigh Temple. 

Including members from Guards bands, as well as students from various music colleges, they opened with the "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" by John Williams, arranged by Peter Worth, Hadleigh Temple's Corps Youth Secretary.  With trumpets ranged to the left on the stage facing trombones on the right the antiphonal effects worked well, although it was a pity the percussionist was restricted to the kit, rather than adding timps and tam tam to the opening.  Somewhat in isolation, the side drum rolls did not quite seem to fit in with the rest of the group.  The make-up of 11+ is based on that adopted by Philip Jones for his larger group, but with a second French horn, and a permanent euphonium instead of a fourth trombone. The two horns played the central melody in unison, supported by sustained chords from the ensemble, getting the concert off to a good start.

The "Prelude from the Holberg Suite" by Grieg had been arranged by Major Burton of the Grenadier Guards, and featured some clear playing on the piccolo trumpet, together with some crisp double-tonguing throughout the group, who produced a full sound, with impeccable intonation.

The first of the two supporting groups was the "Hadleigh Youth Chorus", consisting of ten young ladies under the direction of Singing Company Leader Rachel Worth.  Their first contribution, the lively "Sing, shout allelujah" by Joseph Martin, was followed by an unaccompanied setting of the spiritual "All my trials", which featured solo and duet lines shared amongst the group, giving them ample opportunity to demonstrate their versatility and well-blended tones.

In the introduction to Mark Parfitt's version of "Paganini Variation" reference was made to the well-known Rachmaninov work, but he seemed to have been much more influenced by the Andrew Lloyd Webber opus. The initial melody was thrown from one player to the next before settling into a rock feel.  With a small group such as this there is no room for any passengers, and all the players had exposed lines at some point or other, with the horns again sounding well in the slower section, and a fine quartet by the euphonium and trombones.

The second group from "the home team", led by Clifton Pell, was the oddly named brass quintet "Five men in the cupboard", named on account of the cramped room in which they first rehearsed.   In their first slot they presented two Galliards in contrast, the first by Anthony Holborne and the second by Samuel Scheidt.  Seemingly not too over-awed by their more illustrious neighbours, they showed considerable promise for a group that had only been practicing together for a few weeks.

Paul Archibald is noted as one of the foremost exponents of the piccolo trumpet around, and so it was no surprise to find that instrument featuring prominently in his arrangement of Handel's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba".  Craig Bennett, entrusted with that particular responsibility, is one of Paul's pupils and, together with a number of others in the group, had also been playing in the Royal College of Music Brass Band the previous evening.  The melodic phrases were passed smoothly around the group, and there was a good full sound, with the tuba deserving particular mention for his sustained playing and focused sound across the whole range.

Following two further songs in contrast, "Sing when the Spirit says sing" and "In this very room", the first half concluded with "Echoes of Harlem", one of the movements from Jim Parker's suite "A Londoner in New York".  Strongly influenced by the jazz of the 20s and 30s, with tuba solo set against muted trumpets, interjections from solo trumpet and trombone, and effective glissandi from the trombone section as a whole, they captured the spirit of the era well, although the percussion seemed a little heavy at times.  As the final bars approached, players began to leave the stage until only two trombones remained, giving a couple of false starts before eventually reaching the end.  This bit of theatre was carried off with just the right aplomb and left the audience eagerly looking forward to the second half.

The seating layout changed when they took the stage once more, with flugel horn joining the trombones and tuba to the right of stage for Chris Mowat's transcription of Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No 3".  This was by far the trickiest piece tackled during the evening and tested the players to the full.  In the main they rose to the challenge, although the ensemble was a little loose at times, and the phrases did not always pass smoothly from one player to the next.  Again, the running quavers in the bass part were impressive and the cadenzas from trumpet and horn linking the two movements came off well.

"Five men in the cupboard" then appeared as a quartet to play two arrangements by Brian Harrison.  Both "Pop goes the weasel" and "Polly wolly doodle" were given a rather quirky treatment, with intricate rhythms and oblique key changes, but certainly found favour with the listeners.

Peter Worth, who had also provided the piano accompaniment for the Hadleigh Youth Chorus, presented some thoughts on the question "Why?" before Rachel, this time accompanying herself at the piano, sang most movingly about a lad observing the crucifixion, and asking why it had taken place.

Dave Purser's transcription of Ravel's "Pavane pour une infante Defunte" gave another opportunity to showcase the sound of the French horn, initially accompanied by three trombones and euphonium.  Such impressionistic music, very thinly scored at times, calls for very delicate playing, and there appeared to be a slight lack of confidence, leading to some loss in precision, with entries being very exposed and the balance not being quite perfect.  Nevertheless it was well received, and was a welcome contribution to a pleasantly varied programme.

The youth chorus's final set consisted of Michael W. Smith's "Straight to the heart" and the very lively "Great is the Lord".  The singing of this freshly formed group made quite an impact, and it is to be hoped they stay together and do more in the future.

Chris Hazell, one-time occasional record producer for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, was inspired to write his "Three Brass Cats" by three animals he found himself looking after, each with very different personalities.  "Mr Jums" featured very rich and full textures, with the piccolo trumpet soaring over the top once more, and solos from flugel and horn; "Black Sam" was much more laid back, with prominent tuba and a muted, hymn like opening; "Borage" featured the bass trombone from the outset, supported by the lower half of the ensemble, with trumpet interjections joining in due course.  This was one instance where the absence of a fourth trombone was noticeable, despite the sterling work of Anthony Sommerville, who had organised the evening, on euphonium.

Before the fourth cat "Kraken", "Five men in the cupboard" brought two more lively settings, "A roving" and "Early one morning".  As with the vocal group, this quintet, formed from their own initiative, showed considerable potential for the future.  As for "Kraken" with its fugato sections passing the melody from trombone to horn and on to two trumpets it made a lively prelude to the final programmed item, another arrangement by Mark Parfitt, this time of "Toccata from Suite Gothique", by Boellmann via Eric Ball.  The transcription surprised a number in the audience by its effectiveness, although all the players were kept very busy, with very crisp playing being required from the trumpets and apparently endless supplies of air for the tuba player. The trumpets turned their bells away to quieten the sound at times, and the bass solo entries were taken variously by euphonium and bass trombone, as well as tuba.  It certainly demanded a lot of the players, but 11+ showed they were able to come up with the goods.  The one aspect of the arrangement that did not seem to work so well was the inclusion of a percussion part, possibly in order to give the percussionist something else to do other than her essential role in "Echoes of Harlem", but maybe a
mistake all the same.

As an encore, the audience were treated to a rendition of the Salvation Army favourite "The Red Shield", and everyone left having enjoyed a good evening's music-making, as well as helping to raise over 600 for the youth work of the corps.  The proceedings were piloted through by Paul Hillson, whose illuminating and at times light-hearted comments helped break down any barriers which may have existed between performers and audience.  As for the 11+ Brass Ensemble themselves, a very creditable first outing, and one which they can build on as they develop their repertoire and concert dates in the coming days.

Peter Bale