Casting your eye over what follows you may be thinking to yourself “But it’s nearly all arrangements!” to which my blunt reply would be “So what?”
There is an eminently respectable tradition of transcription/arrangement/ reinterpretation stretching back over musical history; early 17th century publications were sometimes labelled as ‘apt for voices or viols’ and up until the end of the 18th century exact performing forces were not necessarily specified. True, there are arrangements which give more pleasure to the performers than to listeners; I have spent many enjoyable (and not altogether profitless) hours playing classical works in piano duet transcription and, whilst such work would scarcely find a place on concert programmes, one might note that Naxos found it worthwhile to issue recordings of the Brahms symphonies for four hands; it would be interesting to know what sales figures were like… Brahms was, of course, an inveterate arranger; the ‘St Anthony Variations’ were published (and are frequently performed with equal success) in both orchestral and two piano dress and a number of his other works appear under two guises. There are even pieces much better known in arranged rather than original form; ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ surely reached an infinitely wider audience via the Myra Hess piano arrangement than lurking in the umpteenth volume of the complete Bach cantatas.
Hers was a very skilled arrangement – she was of course a very eminent pianist in her own right. It takes an expert player to see the possibilities of reinterpretation in terms of their own instrument. I would say that this is especially true when it comes to arranging for brass instruments; it takes thorough inside knowledge to understand the possibilities and also the confidence to reinterpret where necessary. ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ exists in at least two dozen different orchestral transcriptions made by conductors such as Leopold Stokowski and Henry Wood (virtuoso ‘players of their instrument’) as well as by composers – it is the version by Ravel that we most often hear. But it is very much more than just fun to listen to the versions played by expert brass ensembles; the essence of the music is there and the composer’s vision conveyed despite a reduced tonal palette.
There is no Mussorgsky on this evening’s programme (though one never knows what an encore might throw up) but we are promised music from wide range of times and places, some originally conceived for brasses, some dextrously and imaginatively arranged. I am sure that we shall enjoy both equally.
Mogens Andresen (b. 1945) Norwegian Dance
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1557 – 1612) Canzonas (arr. Howey)
Wolfgang Mozart (1756 – 1791) Queen of the Night’s aria (arr. Taillard)
Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868) ‘Largo al Factotum’ (arr. Taillard)
George Gershwin (1898 – 1937) ‘Porgy and Bess’ Selection (arr. Jack Gale)
Eugène Bozza (1905 – 1991) Sonatine
Florence Price (1887 – 1953) Adoration (arr. Blair)
Kurt Weill (1900 – 1950) ‘The threepenny Opera’ Selection (arr. Foster)
Connaught Brass are quickly earning a name for themselves as a fresh talent on the chamber music scene. Individually the players were all principals in the British National youth orchestras and now freelance with all major UK orchestras. As an ensemble they have won many prestigious prizes and perform widely throughout the UK and in Europe, aiming to “explore and share the broadest range of musical repertoire with as wide an audience as possible”.
© 2022 Richard Hall