The opening Gala Concert of the Cardiff New Brass Festival certainly lived up to its ambitious aim of providing thought provoking, musical excellence.
With three world premieres and a couple of other compositional ‘firsts’, the various ensembles provided a healthy audience (which included young, old and even an intrigued local roller blader, who must have lost his way to Venice Beach via downtown Splott) with an engaging programme.
The young members of the BTM Junior Band gave the early concert goers welcoming pre concert entertainment under the direction of Mark Hutcherson, before the Fanfare Team of the RAF delivered a spankingly polished ‘Valiant and Brave’ – the fanfare heard at the recent Wills and Kate wedding in London.
You do wonder which of the newly married Cambridge’s is which though…
It led into a first half featuring the youthful compositional talents of James Flight, Sarah Lewis, Matt Hall, James Flight and Tom Davoren, with works written for the various featured ensembles.
The RAF Trio of John Truscott, Jonathan Pippen and Ben Godfrey were on fine form with Tom Davoren’s ‘Riff Figures’, a short, but demanding four-movement work based on the intriguing titles, of ‘Clean’, ‘Smooth’, ‘Discipline’ and ‘Dirty’.
It touched upon each with subtle echoes of influences as diverse as ‘prog rock’ to King Crimson and was delivered with slick facility and understating musicality.
James Flight’s ‘Euphony’, (played by the student euphonium quartet of the same name), was an engaging three-movement compilation, neatly balanced in construction and style, and played with an intuitive sense of balance, especially in the melancholic central section of warm lyricism.
The experienced Wormshead Brass gave the twin premieres of ‘Those Echoes Around’ by Sarah Lewis and ‘Velvet Black Sunshine’ by Matt Hall – two diverse works from innovative compositional voices.
The former was an austere, but certainly not bleak work that utilised the Cathedral acoustic to fine effect with its broken motifs and murmured ciphers – as if the walls echoed to the sound of long forgotten paeans of forgiveness from repentant souls.
In contrast Matt Hall’s highly descriptive exploration of the intriguing world of Synesthesia was more openly transparent; an intriguing mix of pulsating upbeat shining vibrancy and sombre all enveloping darkness.
Symphonic Brass of the Royal Air Force provided the second half of the evening, directed by Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs, with a programme that catered for more varied listening tastes.
The centrepiece was the world premiere of Liz Lane’s engrossing ‘Antiphonary’.
Inspired by the discovery of an illuminated volume of Italian musical manuscripts at Berkeley Castle in Gloucester, it was seven-minute construct of a fertile, inventive compositional mind.
The composer led the listener through the turning pages of the book, with the Vivaldi motif’s from his long forgotten opera ‘The Triumphant Constancy of Love and Hate’ played by a plaintive flugel horn.
Hidden between the folios however was a beautifully disguised surprise – as if the curator found a book of 17th century Italian Panini football stickers sandwiched between the Vivaldi’s and Scarlatti’s.
It was a brilliantly creative writing, which ended with a return to the subtle cadences of reflective repose.
Liz Lane has already written for brass (she expertly transcribed David Fanshaw’s ‘African Sanctus’ at the Black Dyke Festival a few years back) and is keen to utilise the medium more.
It should not be an opportunity lost on those who wish to commission a composer of considerable stature.
With the RAF enjoying themselves in impressive fashion with their polished concert selection box, (with plenty of classy playing from each featured soloist as well as the ensemble itself – with music from John Barry to Modest Mussorgsky) the audience filed out into the neon lit bedlam of Cardiff City Centre fulfilled by an evening that certainly delivered on its ambition.