Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro Overture set the scene for an evening of racy precocity from Huddersfield Music Society’s guests The Brillante Brass Quintet – joyous and cheeky with occasional glimpses of profundity.
The Brillantes then played two movements only of Victor Ewald’s four movement Brass Quintet No. 3. This was a pity, as the Brillantes – formed at the Royal Northern College of Music in 2012 – have an interest in proselytizing for the relatively unfamiliar brass quintet format, and here was an opportunity missed.
Victor Ewald (1860-1935) was a Russian string quartet cellist, horn player and composer whose four brass quintets are some of the earliest and best in the format. They are classic Tchaikovskian romanticism showing the extensive range of expression, colour emotion and spirit two trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba are capable of. They are also influenced by the string quartet format and Huddersfield Music Society is a string quartet audience after all.
The complete Ewald Quintet could have been the main substantial work on the programme, but this two movement sample meant the evening was simply a medley of bits and pieces, albeit played with outstanding technique, musical intelligence and a wide range of tone colour and mood.
Two novelties – Henry Fillmore’s Lassus Trombone and Øystein Baadsvik’s Fnugg – were intriguing. Fillmore (1881-1956) was a prolific American composer of brass and marching band pieces and a trombonist despite his father having declared the instrument to be “too evil for any righteous person to play”. The Brillante’s trombonist Chris Jones was excellent in Lassus which was played as a New Orleans march with a touch of ragtime. The tuba solo by Norwegian virtuoso Baadsvik (b. 1966) called Fnugg – a tongue in cheek title as Fnugg means small and weightless in Norwegian – was a bravura display of advanced techniques including multi-phonics and percussive effects performed with effortless and astonishing elan by the Brillante’s Josh Bolton.
Two arrangements by the American trombonist and composer Jack Gale almost provided the meat the programme lacked.
His version of The Sound of Music made good musical sense – with Chris Jones and his horn colleague Sam Yates positively Brucknerian. His version of West Side Story had clarity and the uncertain, ambiguous, disintegrating tonality Bernstein intended.