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CD review: Breaking Ground

A Celebration of Women Composers
Natalie Mannix
Pianist: Stephanie Bruning
Featuring: Tony Baker, Steven Menard, Christopher Sharpe
MSR Classics: MS 1658



Natalie Mannix certainly opens our eyes and minds on a release featuring a quintet of outstanding writers for recital trombone. 

There is no need for it to be a niche celebration though: That the talents of female composers and musicians have long been ignored, sidelined or patronised by publishers and promoters (and continues in both the professional and amateur musical worlds) because of gender is as objectionable as it is dull witted.     

However, as alluded to in the title, it remains a battle still to be fought and won (the CD was recorded in 2015 and released in 2017). 

When it is we can look forward to celebrating more works of this quality - showcased by performers of equally outstanding insight and inspiration. Mannix and accompanist Stephanie Bruning are that and more throughout.  

Tender character

Susan Mutter’s ‘Ages for Trombone and Piano’  is an evocative chronological portrait of manhood – a span that covers the exploratory wonderment of a six year old child and teenage rebelliousness, through to the repetitiveness of a working life that eventually leads to the satisfaction of retirement and the final autumnal fading of the light aged 92.  

It is a work of tender character, as if seen through the eyes of a sister, girlfriend, wife, mother and finally loving companion – the final few bars capturing a fleeting memory of long lost youth caught in the mind’s eye. 

It is a work of tender character, as if seen through the eyes of a sister, girlfriend, wife, mother and finally loving companion – the final few bars capturing a fleeting memory of long lost youth caught in the mind’s eye. 

In contrast, ‘Red Dragonfly’  by Amy Riebs Mills is a snapshot portrait of the life story of the renowned Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra principal trombonist Megumi Kanda (who gave the premiere in 2012); captured memories from her life framed in three contrasting movements based on a favourite Japanese folk tune with a very American flavoured scent of exploration. 

The balance between the exuberant and expressive is expertly struck, the quirky folk dance finale a witty cross cultural New Orleans hoe-down.

Poignant

A rather poignant academic excellence is revealed by ‘Sonata for Trombone and Piano’  by Ann Giffels (1910-2000) - a remarkably assured piece of writing - the more so as it is believed to be her only published work - and for a university student classmate to fulfil an assignment in a composition class at that.   

Giffels was a superb pianist (as can be heard in the sophisticated accompaniment), and whilst influences of Paul Hindemith’s own ‘Trombone Concerto’  are alluded to, the clear originality of the writing is startlingly fresh and inventive some 70 years after it was premiered.  

A ready intimacy is explored in ‘Two Latin Dances’  by Lauren Bernofsky - a pastiche Milonga mix of Astor Piazzolla meets Zequinha de Abreu served up in a shot-glass in a sweaty Buenos Aires bar as the dancers take to the floor in front of you.  

A ready intimacy is explored in ‘Two Latin Dances’  by Lauren Bernofsky - a pastiche Milonga mix of Astor Piazzolla meets Zequinha de Abreu served up in a shot-glass in a sweaty Buenos Aires bar as the dancers take to the floor in front of you.  

It leads into a quartet cocktail glass of piquant flavours with Dorothy Gates’ ‘Shaken not Stirred’ - which owes nothing to 007 but plenty to her late mother.

Written in the quiet surroundings of a friend’s art gallery just a week after her funeral, it’s a distilled delight of joyful individuality. She must have been one heck of a woman.

Iwan Fox


To purchase: http://www.nataliemannix.com/

Play list:

1. Ages for Trombone and Piano (Susan Mutter)
i. Six
ii. Fifteen
iii. Thirty-Four
iv. Sixty-Six
v. Ninety-Two

6. Sonata for Trombone and Piano (Ann Giffels)
i. Allegro
ii. Adagio
iii. Rondo – Vivace

9. Red Dragonfly - Sonata for Trombone and Piano (Amy Riebs Mills)
i. Movement I
ii. Movement II
iii. Movement III

12. Two Latin Dances for Trombone and Piano (Lauren Bernofsky)
i. Bossa Nova
ii. Tango
14. Shaken not Stirred for Trombone Quartet (Dorothy Gates)
Featuring:  Natalie Mannix, Tony Baker, Steven Menard, Christopher Sharpe

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