After the strings and woodwind, it's the turn of Sinfonia Viva's brass principals to perform, in the last of these three streamed events from the orchestra.
Anthony Thompson and Gordon Truman, trumpet, Jenny Cox, horn, Martha Ann Brookes, trombone; and Ian Foster, tuba, were filmed in St John's Church, Buxton (Derbyshire, UK) in a nicely varied programme, introduced by Anthony Thompson. 'Music is good mental health', he says at one point, and who's going to argue with that?
The performance begins with the Toccata that precedes Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo, and underpins the opening chorus of his 1610 Vespers. It does feel a little bit reined-in, as though the players are not quite ready to fully let themselves go. But once they're into Victor Ewald's Quintet No 1, that has passed.
Ewald was a Russian composer you're unlikely to have come across outside the brass world. Of his four brass quintets, No 1 (1890) was the only one published in his lifetime. Though written in a westernised style, it opens with the suggestion of what could well be a Russian folksong. This is just one of the different flavours Viva's players bring out, along with their alertness to the contrasts of tempo. They make nimble work of the second movement's 5/4 middle section, and are sensitive to the timbral contrasts in a nicely-shaped account of the finale.
Raphael Clarkson was commissioned by Sinfonia Viva to write A Call from On High in 2017, for a brass quartet to play from the roof of Derby Cathedral on, as Anthony Thompson says, 'quite a blowy day'. (I was there - it was.) It is partly based on tunes played regularly by the carillon in the Cathedral's bell-chamber, which Thompson describes in his introduction. We hear two of them in their new quintet guise: 'Highland Laddie' and 'All Saints', nods to, respectively, Bonnie Prince Charlie (whose 1745 rebellion turned tail shortly after passing through Derby) and the Cathedral's dedication. Clarkson rings inventive changes (if you'll pardon the expression) on the tunes, and the players are with him all the way.
Matthew Lax, the orchestra's Concert Manager, is a trumpeter himself, so his transcription of the 'Alla Hornpipe' from Handel's Water Music is, naturally, completely idiomatic. Composer Steve Bulla is from a Salvation Army background (as are Thompson himself and Martha Ann Brookes, we're told). Thompson switches to flugelhorn for Bulla's arrangement of the Salvation Army hymn 'Savior Like A Shepherd', which receives beautifully sensitive playing.
Not listed on the event's webpage, for some reason, Dani Howard's Blue Pavilion was commissioned by the Royal Academy of Arts for its 2014 exhibition Sensing Spaces. Thompson quotes, presumably, her own comment that it 'explores the idea of simple things, but which taken together suggest something more complex'. It comes across as an extended slow, meditative fanfare, with Thompson and Cox giving the trumpet-horn duet an almost Ivesian sense of transcendentally wide spaces.
After inviting us into some unsuspected corners of the brass chamber-music repertoire, the quintet goes out with William Rimmer's Sousa-style march Punchinello, given a real spring in its step.
Copyright © 11 April 2021