British Bandsman editor Kenny Crookston spends time with the new Audacious recording...and enjoys it! You can get your copy from www.justforbrass.com
Audacious to the core!
Steven Mead (euphonium)
Tomoko Sawano (piano)
Bocchino Music BOCC110
Depending on what dictionary one uses, the definition of ‘audacious’ covers an extreme range,
from bold, defiant, brave and original, to inventive, insolent, lively and unrestrained. Regardless
of what is most resonant to each reader, the choice of Audacious as the title for a solo recording
can only represent the throwing down of a sizeable gauntlet, and that is exactly what Steven
Mead has done in this remarkable project.
To describe the programme as challenging for the performers is a bit of an understatement,
but while such demanding works can be a test for the listener, this is not really the case here.
In addition to requiring the virtuoso soloist and accompanist to be on top form, this collection
is packed with première recordings, so its importance in terms of euphonium repertoire makes
this essential listening for serious affi cionados of the instrument.
The first track, Yukka Linkola’s Euphonium Concerto, is described in the extensive programme
notes as the ‘Everest’ of euphonium works, with a solo line that would test the greatest players
on any brass instrument. Equally testing is the piano part, which is reduced from the orchestral
score, but here Tomoko Sawano gives an object lesson in the art of accompaniment (as she
does throughout the entire collection), giving a good impression of an entire orchestra in places
(although the soloist assures this writer that there was only one pianist present!).
Linkola was born in Finland in 1955 and this work is heavily influenced by jazz, an idiom
that has played a prominent part in his own career. In the music itself, an energetic and
wide-ranging opening movement is followed by an extended reflective section, with a lively
tightrope-walking third movement (without a safety net) providing an electrifying finale to a
work of both colour and beauty. For me, this piece is the highlight of the collection, but that
doesn’t denigrate the others in any way whatsoever.
Peter Graham’s concerto, In League with Extraordinary Gentlemen, has three imaginatively-titled
movements – The Time Traveller (inspired by H.G. Wells’ short story, The Time Machine) The
Final Problem (an evocation of Sherlock Holmes’ last journey through the Swiss Alps) and The
Great Race (a Moto Perpetuo-style romp based on Phineas Fogg’s race against time in Around
the World in 80 Days) – and was commissioned and first performed by Osaka Municipal Band,
one of Japan’s leading wind orchestras. The work is characteristic of the composer’s vibrant
approach, and it goes without saying that both performers deliver in emphatic style. The
soloist has commented elsewhere that the piece will become a big favourite in the advanced
euphonium repertoire the world over, and this listener would add that those who take on the
challenge will do well to study this recording.
The lively Hungarian Melodies opens Disc 2, and the composer, Vincent Bach, is better known
for making instruments than for writing for them. This is, nevertheless, a virtuosic piece
reminiscent of other Balkan works of its time, and soloist and accompanist carry off a bravura
Roger Boutry’s Mosaique is in four short but contrasting movements and was written in 2002 as
a test-piece for a competition at the Paris Conservatoire. The wide-ranging nature of the piece
has since helped it become established as a regular item on the competition circuit, although it
challenges the listener more than any other on this recording.
Gliere’s Impromptu Op.35 No.9 was originally written for bassoon, but translates nicely as a solo
for euphonium and piano in a tasteful arrangement by Luc Vertommen. It is followed by a new
work from the pen of Hungarian composer, Roland Szentpali – Sketches 1998 for Euphonium
and Piano. Another virtuosic piece, Sketches is in three movements – Allegro, Adagio Molto
and Presto – remaining highly accessible for the listener throughout, and even although the
technical bar is set very high for soloist and piano, both clear it with room to spare. Tchaikovsky’s
delightful Valse Scherzo provides a light-hearted but demanding finale to an outstanding
Although still in the price range of single CDs, this collection occupies two discs, and with 85
minutes of music in total, represents outstanding value. It also comes in Bocchino’s customary
and appealing fold-out packaging, with copious information on every piece and both
performers. It is an outstanding product in every respect.
British Bandsman 13 Sept 2008
Download the BB review pdf with photos:
4Barsrest editor Iwan Fox casts his critical eyes and ears over the new Audacious release (BOCC110)
"Steven Mead dons the crampons and wields the icepick to tackle some of the last remaining fearsome high peaks for the euphonium.
Review by Iwan Fox for 4Barsrest.com 21st July 2008
Accompanied by Tomoko Sawano
Bocchino Recordings: BOCC11
Total Playing Time: 84. 54
Audacious is the latest solo release from the ever inventive Steven Mead – and an apt title it is too.
Not content with exploring the exotic musical margins like a latter day Marco Polo as he has done in the past, this time he has done an Reinhold Messner and decided to go all vertical – or in this case, set off with crampons and ice pick and tackled some of the last great peaks of euphonium repertoire left to successfully conquer.
To top it all, just like Messner in fact, he has decided to do it without the aid of an extensive back up team of a band of brass sherpas too . This is euphonium playing pared to the bare essentials: performer, instrument, accompanist.
The centrepiece is the fearsome Linkola ‘Euphonium Concerto’, a treacherous crest of technical and musical brilliance that has claimed the lives of many a celebrated euphonium star since it was composed in 1995. Not only is it incredibly musically taxing, it is also perhaps the most physically draining concerto of modern times too.
Powerful rhythmic patterns are paired with elastic lyrical passages, awesome dynamic features linked to lung bursting extremities of range. For the true virtuosi it is rightly regarded as the ‘Everest’ of its genre, tackled by many, conquered by few. Mead digs deep into his musical resources and emerges triumphant astride its summit after delivering a quite superb performance of nuance and daring.
If the ascent of the Linkola was not enough, the descent is taken via an equally difficult ridge of technical accomplishment with Peter Graham’s cleverly realised, ‘In League with Extraordinary Gentlemen’.
The composer has a bit of a penchant for taking inspiration from the late Victorian appetite for the weird and wonderful tales of daring so and early science fiction writing.
Here we get three musical references to some of the great literary phenomena of the age (rather than the American inspired capers of Allan Quatermain, Doctor Jekyll and friends in the comic book series of the late 1990s).
First up is HG Wells and his foray into time travel, followed by Sherlock Holmes in reflective mood in the Swiss Alps and finally, Phineas Fogg racing against the clock in his efforts to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Contrasting, richly inventive and full of an authentic sense of melodrama, it a cracking work, played with just the right degree of bravura by the soloist.
With these two major works filling close to 50 minutes of playing time, the second disc is given over to four showcase works. Although not written on the same epic scale as the Linkola or Graham, they do however pose just as many varied challenges for the soloist to overcome.
The lollipop ‘Hungarian Melodies’ is a chance for Mead to unwind with a display of Magyar inspired virtuosity that he delivers with an authentic style of goulash inspired vividness and lustre. Meanwhile, the closing Tchaikovsky inspired ‘Valse – Scherzo’ is an enjoyable old romp of a piece delivered with sparkling clarity, whilst there is a finely tuned complement in Gliere’s darkly hued ‘Impromptu’, originally written for bassoon, but laid out with an acute sense of stylistic understanding and reserve.
In between there is the interesting ‘Mosaique’ by Roger Boutry, a delightful four movement work of eclectic though process on a jazz inspired foundation, and a new work from the pen of young Hungarian composer Roland Szentpali.
Dedicated to the soloist, the three movement work is a daring mix of invention with a ambitious sense of style that at times is puzzling, yet always engaging. We may well hear more of him in years to come.
There is little doubt that the title of this latest release sums Steven Mead up to a tee as a performer, and sees him on the very top of his form throughout. A special mention must also go to the accompanist Tomoko Sawano who is a delightful counterpoint throughout with her precise, detailed and colourful playing.
Add to that the excellent quality of the recording and post production process and you have a release that confirms that Steven Mead still has the unquestioned ability to conquer even the most fearsome of high musical peaks for the euphonium - with or without the help of a team of sherpas and oxygen....
Euphonium Concerto, Jukka Linkola
In League With Extraordinary Gentlemen (Concerto for Euphonium), Peter Graham
Hungarian Melodies, Vincent Bach arr. Brasch
Mosaique, Roger Boutry
Impromptu Op.35, No.9, Reinhold Gliere, arr. Vertommen
Sketches 1998 for Euphonium and Piano, Roland Szentpali
Valse Scherzo Op.34, Tchaikovsky arr. Vertommen