Lunchtime Series: Elysium Brass Ensemble, 22nd November 2018

The fourth concert of this winter’s Lunchtime Series featured the welcome return of the Elysium Brass Ensemble who made a very successful debut in Leicester in 2016,how successful was perhaps indicated this time round by the concert being a sell out.

The Ensemble have a number of things going for them. Firstly, they are splendid virtuoso players. Secondly, they convey the joys of youth. It used to be that in the world of classical music most players clearly would see it as part of their brief to maintain a stern demeanour which conveyed the seriousness of their profession. Never so much as a smile would crease their faces. Now it is much more common, at least in these concerts, for artists to see it as part of their remit to engage with their audience. This ensemble do that to perfection: their concerts seem almost like spontaneous events arranged for friends.

Their programme this time followed very much the pattern of the previous one. It was an eclectic mixture of music that ranged through the centuries as well as ringing the changes in mood. It started with a fanfare of the modern day and then slipped seamlessly into the 16th and 17th centuries with firstly Battle Suite by a composer unknown to me who rejoiced in the name of Scheidt. I did remember the suite though which was put together by that noted brass player of my generation, Phillip Jones of the brass ensemble of the same name. It sent shivers of delight in its grandness when I first heard it and it did here. It conveys something of the grace and grandeur of the Renaissance Courts of Europe which is particularly exemplified for us by the entertainments to be found in those of Elizabeth the First and James the First, the first Golden period of English music.

That mood was carried on in a performance of Gabrieli ‘s Canzone No.4. in which the three players attempted to copy in the Museum the sonic effect obtained in St.Mark’s Venice by brass instruments being played from separate galleries. Well, nobody, not even the players, expected that to work fully but it mattered little since the sound was stunning.

Then it was on to two works by composers of the late 19c. and early 20c. Firstly, the audience was given a second chance to sample the music of Victor Ewald who it appears was firstly a Russian civil engineer and secondly a musician. I had to be careful here since I remember being somewhat lukewarm about the brass quintet featured in the earlier concert and I wasn’t sure but that we might be getting a re-run.  I had made no note of the number of the work then being played so the chance of making a greater fool than usual of myself was clearly on the cards. However, I was assured by a man who did know that this was a different quintet, Number 3 ,and indeed the introduction made a point of suggesting that this was probably the best in the series. It certainly caught my attention much more, though curiously not in the slow movement which in the previous work played seemed to be the most memorable. Here what the programme described as the gently lyrical Andante I thought to be rather low in ear catching lyricism. No, it was the other three movements which had a freshness of invention. The Intermezzo in particular seemed music of high quality. There was here some superb trumpet playing in a devilish part of the movement but overall the work was thoroughly engaging.

Alas, I do wish I could say the same about the transcription of Ravel’s famous Pavane. It rather puzzles me why the Ensemble should be so keen to play transcriptions of French music of the beginning of the 20c when, in the case of the two major composers, it is music whose central concerns are of colour, fluid structures and subtle dynamics.  One realises that transcription is perforce the nature of the game for a brass ensemble but surely the capacity of the particular instrument or ensemble to deliver something of the world of the original should be artistically crucial in the choice. Last time it was Debussy ‘s Girl with the Flaxen Hair and I have to say I felt  that this time the treatment of Ravel’s beautiful piano piece which ten years later he made into the more famous orchestral version seemed to me equally unsuccessful. Both of the originals, particularly the latter scored for gentle horns, harp, woodwind and strings , may not be intended to evoke any dead Infanta but their sound world is nonetheless exquisite. In this transcription, perhaps inevitably given the nature of brass instruments en masse, that evaporated and it was as if someone engaged in a beautifully graceful and wistful slow dance had been asked to perform it in hobnail boots. Perhaps, it might not have been quite the case in a less intimate acoustic that did more to let the sound expand and soften.

Anyhow, that over ,the concert finished on a much more successful note for me with music that was thoroughly popular,upbeat and highly suitable. Soney Kompanek’s Killer Tango was indeed a killer, played with tremendous swing and sensuousness and Paul Nagle’s Jive for Five in which the Tuba Player was given an unusually prominent role to play made for a wonderfully lively ending to the programme.

Except that it didn’t end there for we had a return from the previous concert of a rather lovely transcription(!) about that famous bird that is heard singing in a notable London Square and once again one felt the Ensemble had given a Leicester audience a truly delightful concert. I hope they will return sooner rather than later.



There are two concerts coming up which should not be missed.

Wed .December 5th 7.30 at DMH sees the Philharmonia under their principal guest conductor Rouvali playing Strauss’ Rosenkavalier Suite followed by his mighty Alpine Symphony. As if that was enough, Sophie Bevan is singing the Four Last Songs. Having heard her twice in recent months, all I can say is that she is a young singer in her prime. At the Festival I introduced her name to an American opera director. He went home to the USA and emailed me later saying that he had listened to one or two short recordings of hers.  His comment was that she was ‘terrific’.

Thurs.December 6th 1.00 has The Goldner Quartet coming to Leicester with a high reputation internationally. For details see the Leicester Festival website.