Review: Birthday Concert (Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra)

Clark Rundell and Mark Heron Conductors

Tim Reynish, Guest Conductor

Saturday 9th March, RNCM Concert Hall, 7.30pm

Simone Rebello - Marimba
Paul Goodey - Oboe
John Miller - Trumpet

Gallimaufry - Guy Woolfenden
Love Transforming… - Adam Gorb - World Premiere
Marimba Concerto - Thea Musgrave
Journey through a Japanese Landscape
Autumn’s Elegy - Kenneth Hesketh - World Premiere
An Elegy for Ur - Edwin Roxburgh
Trumpet Concerto - Richard Rodney Bennett

Tim Reynish writes…

When I began teaching in a West Country Grammar School some fifty two years ago, I used to write unashamedly enthusiastic reviews of my own concerts for the Somerset County Gazette, and here I am half a century later doing the same thing for my own birthday concert. It was a terrific occasion, a concert of my own commissions, put together by my successor at the college Paul Goodey together with Clark Rundell and Mark Heron. Far too long of course, even without my input, but it had to cover thirty years of commissions.

Back in the same concert Hall in 1983, we premiered Guy’s first wind orchestra work, Gallimaufry, and thirty years later it proved to be as fresh and inventive as it was then in that exciting first Manchester BASBWE Conference. All too often, the work the work gets too little rehearsal, but in this performance we tried to get into the dozens of different subtleties of dynamics and articulation, to give soloists freedom of expression and to balance the brass and percussion carefully.

Fifteen years ago for my 60th birthday Adam Gorb wrote Yiddish Dances, almost a pot-boiler now and perhaps his most successful band piece, but i n Love Transforming for my 75th he set out to write a very different work, a “serious” slow movement. It opens with an outburst from the woodwind, harsh and uncompromising, over menacing bras chords, and this passage gives way to a series of solo motifs for different families, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bass clarinets, bassoons, accompanied by percussion. There is a Mahlerian use of offstage instruments, two pairs of trumpets in the balconies, a pair of saxophones at the back of the auditorium, all repeating ostinato figures, and out of the melos we are suddenly aware of two soprano voices from the orchestra. After another outburst, there is a long canonic chorale, marked pppp, another coming together of all of the elements, pp and a fading out with a solo trumpet suspended.

Kenneth Hesketh like Guy Woolfenden and Adam Gorb, has kept up a stream of important works over the years. Autumn’s Elegy is a transcription of the slow movement of an earlier work for orchestra, of which Masque is the opening movement. Early Hesketh hit is then, and a wonderfully romantic, lyrical piece it is. Like Adam, Ken has a sure sense of architecture, of the tension and release which is so important in a work whether in a traditional or contemporary idiom. A long sinuous line for solo euphonium, joined by others on occasion, builds to the first climax, out of which emerges a poignant oboe solo. Like the Gorb, this work is also about ten minutes and also mainly in a slow 4/4, but the wealth of ideas and the warmth of the scoring and textures carries the movement forward. The work was commissioned by a consortium, put together especially as a birthday tribute for this concert by Paul Hindmarsh, Wind Editor for Faber who will publish it later this year.

The Manchester Evening News covered the concert and spoke of Love Transforming as a fascinating exploration of timbres and spatial effects…with some performers around the room or up in a gallery – and two of them singing as well as playing their instruments – it was both evocative and a model of how to write clearly and imaginatively for unusual textures.

The second was Autumn’s Elegy by Kenneth Hesketh, music of warmth, richness and affection…..

Three concerti completed the programme, the Bennett Trumpet Concerto written twenty years ago in 1993, Musgrave’s haunting Marimba Concerto premiered in 1994 and Roxburgh’s heartfelt An Elegy for Ur dating from 2006. Journey through a Japanese Landscape was commissioned for Dame Evelyn Glennie and is essentially a marimba concerto, each movement introduced by glissandi on chimes, each based on a set of haiku and each descriptive of one of the four seasons, excellently played by the RNCM Head of Percussion, Simone Rebello. Clark Rundell, who conducted the Musgrave, and Mark Heron who conducted the other two works, are of course vastly experienced in handling wind ensemble, and only occasionally were there problems of balance here and in the Roxburgh.

Paul Goodey, Head of School of Wind and Percussion, gave a remarkable performance on the Roxburgh, playing from memory with extraordinary sang froid and technical brilliance, capturing all of the elusive emotional moods of this wonderful addition to the concerto repertoire. The College Wind Orchestra coped with all of the difficulties of the work with ease, and provided a brilliant accompaniment to both oboe concerto and the more straightforward Trumpet Concerto.

Bennett’s work has proved too much of a test for many trumpeters, both in terms of stamina and technique, a real traditional contest between soloist and orchestra, but John Miller, who played it last at my 60th birthday at the Barbican, was more than equal to the challenge.

Superb performances then by the RNCM Head of School of Wind and Percussion, and the Heads of Percussion and Brass, great conducting by Clark and Mark, and a wonderful birthday cake for everyone after the concert, completed my 75th year; a huge thank you.