Brass septet produces haunting and enjoyable chamber music at the MFC

Septura Brass Septet: An American in Paris
(Chamber Music New Zealand)

Ravel: Ma mére l’Oye (Mother Goose)
Debussy: Preludes
Gershwin: Three Piano Preludes; Songbook; An American in Paris

Michael Fowler Centre

Tuesday 30 April, 7:30 pm, 2019

Three trumpets, three trombones, one a bass trombone, and a tuba is not the usual combination for a chamber music concert, but seven principal brass players of London Symphony orchestras got together to demonstrate that brass is capable of producing chamber music. Horns, such an integral part of the brass section of an orchestra, were missing. They might have added a mellower sound to the ensemble, but obviously this was not what these players had in mind. Simon Cox and Matthew Knight, the two artistic directors of the group arranged the music for them. Their guiding principle was that the music should sound as if it was originally written for brass.

The audience was challenged to leave their preconceived ideas of what the music should sound like at the door and listen with fresh ears. The pieces in this programme are well known and familiar, but played by a brass ensemble they all sounded new.

Ravel and Gershwin knew each other and held each other in high esteem; they were both influenced by Debussy. It was this relationship that was the theme that held these works together.

The Mother Goose Suite, arranged from the piano duet rather than the orchestral version sounded colourful. It had a depth that cannot be attained on the piano. The special effects were enhanced by the innovate use of mutes. The beautiful rich sound of the brass was specially effective in the chorale sounding last movement, The Fairy Garden.

The Debussy Preludes for solo piano are lovely miniatures and played by the brass they attained a different, richer sound. The rich brass chords, the underlying bass of the trombones and tuba underscored the well-known melody of the Girl with the flaxen hair played on the trumpet. The trombones produced the humorous sound effects appropriate for the Minstrels. The Sunken Cathedral had beautiful bell like sounds produced with layer upon layer of brass sound. This was a different Debussy.

The second half of the programme was devoted to the music of Gershwin, arrangement of the Three Piano Preludes, short little pieces from the Songbook and the major work, An  American in Paris. Gershwin created a colourful world of his own which encapsulated the jazz age, the frivolity of the 1920s, and these pieces sounded particularly appropriate for a brass ensemble. It was an era after the First World War in which people believed that life was short, people had to make the most of it, live it up, seek happiness in gaiety, but underlying it all there was a touch of melancholy. This was captured by the joyful yet sensitive performance.

Britain has a great tradition of brass music, but this concert was a world away from the usual sound of brass bands. This group had a flexibility that tested the limits of the players’ ability and together they produced a sonority seldom heard. They shed new light on familiar music; one came away from the concert with the haunting sound of beautiful brass playing. It was a concert with a difference, but very enjoyable.


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