MOFFAT MUSIC SOCIETY, Wednesday 8 April, 2015

The final concert of our 2014-15 season, given by Alba Brass, maintained the high standard of music-making that has been a feature throughout. The ensemble also proved adept at creating a good rapport with its audience.

Three movements from Handel’s Firework Music opened the concert. The Overture was suitably regal, with fanfare motifs flickering amidst the pomp. Immediately obvious was the rich blend of sound, the ensemble showing how adroitly they could adjust ceremonial music designed for performance in a public park to the acoustic of the intimate Old Well Theatre. Bede played the piccolo trumpet, adding filigree decoration in this opening. For the lilting Siciliano and celebratory Rejoicing he used a standard trumpet.

Paul Stone then introduced the ensemble: Bede Williams and Vicky Blair (trumpets), Jamie Shield (French horn), Danielle Price (tuba) and himself (trombone, although he initially studied euphonium), and Ewald’s 3rd Quintet, one of the first pieces written for brass quintet. The cheerful Russian music was Romantic with motifs passing from instrument to instrument, giving all many opportunities to shine. Surprisingly it did not reflect Ewald’s passion for Russian folk-music.

It was followed by Ryan Quigley, Shorthand of Emotion, a contemporary work that proved to be readily accessible. Whilst there were some rapid mood shifts and occasional gently dischordant moments, other melancholic or drowsy sections were longer and more lyrical. Textures changed often, solos and duets were developed to involve other instruments, and rhythms were often sharp and bouncy, with the tuba coming into its own.

After an interval, Bach’s catchy Little Fugue BVW578 set the mood for the remainder of the concert. It was taken at a good lick, textures were clear and ornamentation excellent. She Moved through the Fair, a lovely calm Irish folksong followed. Jamie’s playing of the first verse was moving, and the subsequent harmonisation and development was delightful.

Next we heard Scheidt’s Canzon Bergamasque, engaging, dancing music based on 16th-17th century German songs. Mozart’s Turkish Rondo from his 11th Piano Sonata, taken at speed, made a fine contrast and was great fun. This movement, usually heard in a recital hall, was actually intended for informal settings and made use of ‘janissary pedals’, clamorous cymbal, triangle or bass drum effects, that featured on many pianos of the time.

Three famous songs brought the concert to an end. Gershwin’s I’ve got Rhythm, Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz were played with great panache and set toes tapping.

It had been a most enjoyable evening. We had learned of the bicentenary of valved brass, found out more about the music and the players, often in a humorous way, and marvelled at the virtuosity of the instrumentalists and the sonorities they produced. It wasn’t quite over, for they played themselves out with a spirited encore. It had been a great pleasure to be reminded of the mellifluous sound of a first class brass ensemble.