Friday 16 November 2018

Elgar, Finzi, Parry, Walton from a different angle: arrangements for brass septet

Music for Brass Septet 6 - Septura - NAxos
Music for Brass Septet - Finzi, Elgar, Parry, Walton; Septura; Naxos Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Septura's new transcriptions reveal a subtly lyrical and autumnal side to this talented brass ensemble

I have to confess that when I first came across this new disc from the brass ensemble Septura on Naxos, I was both intrigued and dubious. It is a disc of music by Gerald Finzi, Edward Elgar, Hubert Parry and William Walton heard in new ways, with arrangements of pre-existing music. So was have Elgar's Serenade, four of Parry's Songs of Farewell, a motet and two string orchestra pieces by Finzi and Walton's late Sonata for String Orchestra.

In fact the results work very well and, as with the best transcriptions, the music is successfully re-invented in the new form. It is a credit to arrangers (Simon Cox and Matthew Knight) and performers that this actually sounds like brass music of the period, preserving something of the original too.

So Finzi's motet God is gone up is successfully re-invented as a striking prelude, convincingly in period and taking up a process regularly used by Renaissance brass players [see my review of the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble's recent disc] whereby motets were re-used as purely instrumental pieces. With Elgar's Serenade the lyricism and autumnal tones of the brass playing really counts for a lot in this music, bringing out the elegiac tone that is implicit in much of Elgar's music. If you know the serenade well, then some of the detail seems a bit heavier when moved onto the brass but the end results are lovely, with a subtly impulsive opening movement, a lovely line and warm tones in the intimate slow movement and a surprisingly gentle final movement.

Septura performing on BBC Radio 3's In Tune - July 2016 (Photo Septura/BBC)
Septura performing on BBC Radio 3's In Tune - July 2016 (Photo Septura/BBC)
Finzi's Prelude in F minor, based on a string piece, is finely sombre with some lovely scrunchy harmonies.

The great surprise is Parry's Songs of Farewell where the first four movements have been arranged for the brass ensemble. Again the tone of the brass group creates the right elegiac feel for these pieces, casting a warm autumnal glow over the music. Perhaps in some, like My soul, there is a country, the tempos are a bit on the steady side and whereas in choral performances  conductors often move the music around more in response to the words. But the use of changes of instrument and colour really does heighten the music's expressive structures, and the brass players are adept at creating Parry's long unfolding lines. Without the words, and with the music performed as intelligently as this, the performance makes you listen to Parry's music with new ears.

Another Finiz string piece, contributes some beautifully English sounding lyricism in the Romance in E flat major.

The final piece on the disc is rather later than the others, William Walton's 1971 Sonata for String Orchestra, a transcription of an earlier string quartet. The opening sounds intriguing and not completely Walton like, until you realise that in this movement the Walton of 1971 added new material to the Walton of 1945 (when the quartet was written). The result is rather striking, and only gradually does the familiar Walton voice reassert itself. And the fascinating thing is that transposed from strings to brass, the familiar rhythms and melodic shapes make complete sense and you can hear echoes of familiar brass writing from works like Crown Imperial.

Septura is a seven piece brass ensemble made up of some of the leading players from London orchestras, Huw Morgan, Alan Thomas, Simon Cox, Peter Moore, Matthew Knight, Daniel West and Peter Smith, with Simon Cox and Matthew Knight as joint artistic directors. The music on the disc is all arranged by either Cox or Knight. The subtlety of their playing and the fine interplay between individual players goes a long way to making these transcriptions a success. If you have a particular view of brass music, then do try this disc as it shows what can be achieved.

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), arr. Matthew Knight - God is gone up (1951)
Edward Elgar (1857-1934), arr. Matthew Knight - Serenade in E minor (1892)
Gerald Finzi, arr. Simon Cox - Prelude in F minor (1929)
Hubert Parry (1848-1919), arr. Matthew Knight - Songs of Farewell (1916-1918)
Gerald Finzi, arr Simon Cox - Romance in E flat major (1928)
William Walton (1902-1983), arr. Simon Cox  - Sonata for String Orchestra (1971)
Septura (Huw Morgan, Alan Thomas, Simon Cox, Peter Moore, Matthew Knight, Daniel West and Peter Smith)
Recorded 13-15 July 2017 at St Paul's Church, New Southgate, London
NAXOS 8.573825 1CD [69.53]

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Love & Prayer: Nadine Benjamin debut solo album (★★★★) - CD review
  • A sense of subtext: Joe Cutler's Elsewhereness on NMC (★★★★) - CD review
  • Otherwordly concerns: Anderswelt - Marlis Petersen and Camillo Radicke in late-Romantic lieder (★★★★) - CD review
  • Late genius and two sextets: Strauss, Haydn and Brahms at Conway Hall  (★★★½)  - concert review
  • Iconic but flawed: La Bayadère the Royal Ballet  - ballet review
  • Reformation Remainers: Musicians, zealots and loyalists in Tudor England at BREMF - concert review
  • In Remembrance - choral discs commemorating the centenary of the Armistice  - CD review
  • Spirito: Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka in bel canto scenes (★★★★½) - CD review
  • A Mahler Piano Series: Echoes of the East  (★★★½) - concert review
  • All he wanted to do was make people cry  - article
  • Intimate grandeur: Fulham Opera in Verdi's five-act version of Don Carlo  (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Telling tales - Cheryl Frances Hoad's Magic Lantern Tales from Champs Hill (★★★★) - CD review
  • Lincolnshire Remembers: Britten's War Requiem from Lincoln Cathedral - concert review
  • Enjoying the musicianship: Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars  (★★★★) - CD review
  •  Home

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