Review – Beyond the Tamar

Mayfair Theatre, Dunedin
16 June 2009
Conductor: Steve Miles

A good sized audience turned out for the first in St Kilda Brass’s 2009 concert series on a bitterly cold Dunedin Saturday night.

The late start to the concert series this year is due to the change of date for the New Zealand National Championships which was held over the Easter period, a change that seems to have caused a number of event programming issues in the Dunedin community but nonetheless the series was finally underway and it was Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s Walking with Heroes which got the nights entertainment started with Cornets and Trombones in traditional concert opening fanfare formation.

Subtitled a “journey through musical genres and styles,” the concert continued with music from Franz Liszt in the form of the Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 which was delivered with fine ensemble, balance of lines and a certain “musical cheekiness” in the interpretation.

A complete change of mood (and lighting effect) brought the beautiful melody Amazing Grace before the major contribution of the first half Philip Harper’s Beyond the Tamar. Written originally for the Anniversary celebrations of the Cornwall Youth Brass Band, Harper’s work takes the audience on a journey from Cornwall around the world and back again visiting and touching upon musical styles of various countries and offering both audience and band a thoroughly entertaining time.

Beyond the Tamar was a real treat from the beautiful serenity of the Alps to the clearly visible flashes of Lighting through the Storm in Leningrad, the Improvisational techniques and tone colours of India, the vocal talents of the entire band in the traditional melody from Zimbabwe led by Rene Spoors to the wonderfully choreographed and all out fun in the Latin American Salsa.

I have never heard a brass concert quite like this and I applaud the MD’s attempt at delivering something unique to the Dunedin audience. Many audience members that I spoke to during the interval and after the show regarded this work as a highlight not only of the concert but of the entire last 3 concert series!

First off in the second half came James Curnow’s Psalm of Praise which was not always executed with the precision that one expects from this fine band but nonetheless there was certainly some excitement generated from the crisp ensemble and control of tempi.

A soloist showcase followed featuring the talents of Ralph Miller in Live and Let Die on soprano cornet, John Lewis in Napoli on cornet, Marty Kibble in Children of Sanchez on flugel horn and Errol Moore in Hamabe No Uta on euphonium. What a joy it is having such fine soloists in Dunedin and how lucky this band is to have leaders of such quality. All soloists really showed there class despite the occasional unsteadiness of the accompanying ensemble. Bravo!

Breathtaking speed through the Armenian Fire Dance which saw technical wizardry from both a young cornet team and a talented tuned percussion section led to a final set of music from the Big Band era with cornets exchanging their instruments for trumpets.

I must say this set of music was particularly enjoyable and the band seemed to be completely at ease with this genre of music delivering a very tight and dynamically controlled performance topped off with some nifty jazz solo work from Ralph Miller and John Lewis.

Contrast, variety and innovation were the ingredients to this concert which saw the band take their choreography to a new level…thoroughly enjoyable!

The bands next concert once again features the astonishing talent of David Bremner as guest soloist appearing this time with his father Trevor also. Not that I should be wishing away time at my age but roll on 31st July!

Sean McDonald

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