Tuesday 12 September 2017

The Art of Dancing

The Art of Dancing - Simon Desbruslais - Signum Classics
Toby Young, Geoffrey Gordon, Deborah Pritchard, Nimrod Borenstein; Simon Desbruslais, Clare Hammond, English String Orchestra, Kenneth Woods; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 9 2017 Star rating: 4.0
An imaginative group of new concertante works for trumpet, piano and strings

Here is another disc from the English Symphony Orchestra focussing on contemporary British concertos (see my review of Harriet Mackenzie's disc of violin concertos). For this disc, on Signum Classics, trumpeter Simon Desbruslais performs 21st century concertante works for trumpet, piano and strings with pianist Clare Hammond, and the English String Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Woods, with Toby Young's The Art of Dancing, Geoffrey Gordon's Saint Blue, Deborah Pritchard's Seven Halts on the Somme and Nimrod Borenstein's Concerto for piano, trumpet and string orchestra.

The disc is something of a follow up to Simon Desbruslais' 2014 disc of contemporary British trumpet concertos (see my review) and part of his campaign to widen the repertoire of solo trumpet pieces. Whilst Dmitri Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto, with its prominent trumpet part, lies behind the music on the disc, the four composers on this disc have come up with very different works.

Toby Young's The Art of Dancing is inspired by the idea of the baroque dance suite, though here the dances are modern. After a prelude we have Garage, Acid House, Drum & Bass, Trance and Breakbeat, followed by a postlude, all intriguingly rendered acoustically. In fact, being generally unfamiliar with these genres, I came to the work with few preconceptions.
This is very much a suite, rather than concerto, and Toby Young weaves his concertante instruments in and out of the textures, adding spice by having Simon Desbruslais use a piccolo trumpet in some movements. The different movements are all beautifully differentiated and this engaging work deserves wider currency.

Geoffrey Gordon's Saint Blue is more formally a double concerto for trumpet, piano and strings. The work is inspired by two Wassily Kandinsky paintings entitled Saint Blue. It is a single movement lasting ten minutes. The work starts with a sort of up tempo busyness in the strings with an expressionist trumpet line over the top. From here things gradually get darker offering some intriguing mixes of edgy harmony. Though a double concerto, on first listening the trumpet rather seemed to dominate, and for all the work's busy-ness, it seemed to be a steady working out of a reasoned argument.

Deborah Pritchard's Seven Halts on the Somme for solo trumpet, harp and string orchetra is also inspired by painting, by a series of paintings by Hughie O'Donoghue which mark the seven stopping points for British troops during the Battle of the Somme.The work opens with a long trumpet solo, dark and rather edgy, with a sudden entry for the orchestra in the second movement. Pritchard's writing is very much inspired by the action depicted in the paintings, creating a series of distinctive movements with the trumpet usually, but not always, to the fore. the work feels like a continuous exploration rather than a sequence of individual movements.

Nimrod Borenstein's Concerto for piano, trumpet and strings was premiered by Simon Desbruslais in 2016 with Clare Hammond and the English String Orchestra, conductor Kenneth Woods. It is a three movement work and the first movement plunges straight in. Borenstein plays with minimalist style patternings but using them to create complex textures with the trumpet and piano tossing ideas between each other. The whole has a nervous, fidgety feel, and everything evaporates at the end. The second movement sees trumpet and piano start exchanging ideas over light string accompaniment and the debt to Shostakovich seems more apparent here, whilst the finale again sees the protagonists tossing some rather perky ideas between each other.

The combination of trumpet, piano and strings is an intriguing one, and the composers on this disc have responded in a variety of different ways to the challenge, coming up with some striking works. There are some engaging performances here, and I would recommend the disc to anyone interested in extending the repertoire of contemporary concertante works.

Toby Young - The Art of Dancing
Geoffrey Gordon - Saint Blue
Deborah Pritchard - Seven Halts on the Somme
Nimrod Borenstein - Concerto for piano, trumpet and string orchestra, Op. 74
Simon Desbruslais (trumpet)
Clare Hammond (piano)
English String Orchestra
Kenneth Woods (conductor)
Recorded Elgar Concert Hall, University of Birmingham, 18 September 2015, Middleton Hall, University of Hull, 29 October 2016.
Available from Amazon.

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