Oration review by Denis Wilby
The popularity of the euphonium is at an all-time high, mainly thanks to Steven Mead (and the Childs Family), who have thrilled audiences on the concert platform around the world with their wonderful talent, promoting the appeal of an instrument which is still virtually unknown to the wider audience. His recordings total an incredible 20 CDs of which Euphony and Concertino have appeared on the Polyphonic label. Collectors of this soloist's recordings can always be assured on new material, and Oration does not disappoint.
Having to rely heavily on music from other sources, there are some dazzling new arrangements to appreciate, but the original works will be a real bonus to the repertoire. The first two items are taken from the orchestral repertoire. Pequena Czarda and Aria were originally written for the saxophone, but adapt successfully for the euphonium . The sensual sound of this soloist is obvious from the opening bars. Her is a musical communicator (the hallmark of any great soloist). Musicality simply flows in Eugene Bozza's lovely Aria. Howard Snell has masterly control of the dynamics and Williams Fairey provide the ideal cushion for Mead's wonderful sound. Philip Wilby's Euphonium Concerto is a mammoth task for soloist and band. Playing time is concerto duration (19 minutes) and it holds the attention of the listener every bar of the way. Composed in 1995, it comprises two parts, each in two movements. But it is the Greek Dance Zeibekikos which many will recognize not just for its fiendishly demanding writing, including lip slurs and the odd pedal note, but also for the final plate-smashing effect. A wonderful piece of writing, beautifully portrayed by soloist, conductor and band.
Walther's Prize Song is pure Wagner and receives its first ever performance on this CD, whilst Boccalari's Fantasia di Concerto (in the original symphonic band version) was written for John Perfetto, a euphonium soloist with the Sousa Band, noted for his use of the double bell instrument, but in this version, John Meredith has re-arranged it for Steven Mead. The bravura cadenza is a lesson for all young players in the art of technique, whilst the lively bolero brings a sparkle to this exciting work. Traditional airs always find favour with soloist and it's the charming Irish melody The Lark in the Clear Air in David Catherwood's arrangement, which provides the perfect melody line for Mead's wonderful sound. Swiss composer Bertrand Moren's Mr.Euphonium is another original work easy on the ear, which gets the full treatment from Mead's super range and enviable technique. Rossini is represented in another major work (13 minutes) Introduction, Theme and Variations, this time via clarinet and orchestra. Maybe a strange choice for a brass transcription ? It provides the technical writing which brass players seem to thrive on, and here's the soloist equipped for the task. There is some stunning playing throughout.
The final track, Howard Snell's Oration was written as a memorial to two friends. It's a very profound work (though short) but an apt choice for the CDs title. Not every soloist CD can sustain the attention of the listener for an hour plus, but Oration will, which is a sure sign of the high quality of musicianship from Steven Mead, Williams Fairey and Howard Snell. Artistic playing. Outstanding album. Steven Mead is a true artist who goes from strength to strength. Sure to be a winner.
Denis Wilby, Brass Review Magazine, UK
Williams Fairey Brass Band
conductor Howard Snell