Pure Brass

Concert date: 15 February 2013
Reviewed by: JRC

After a spontaneous standing ovation at Canada Hill school, how would Pure Brass perform at the Courtenay Centre's NADSA concert?

They were straight in there with Lutoslawski's minature Overture, a short piece that showcases each instrument of the brass quintet in a modern genre. This was serious stuff.

We were then delighted by two works of Farnaby and Gabrieli from the 16th century and early 17th century which were melodic and of differing tempos. The lightness of touch made Farnaby's dance movements come alive, and it was blissfully easy to imagine Gabrieli's Sonata Per Sonare No. 4 echoing around St Mark's in Venice. Partita on a Krakow Fanfare by Wilby, a modern British composer, was musical drama. There were distant sounds and later the arrival of volume and brilliant technical dexterity.

Since the first four pieces had jumped back and forth in time and styles, Michael Kamen's Quintet was well placed to follow, it being an uninhibited tone poem of sheer romanticism, sensitively performed.

For those that had not met a 'Fugue' before, Pure Brass' introduction to Bach's Little Fugue in G minor was both informative and great fun; not to mention the technical agility.

Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba ushered us back from the interval, and though the work is familiar to the point of being hackneyed, their performance was bright and intense. This intensity was maintained through the mournful Farewell to Stromness [which entered the Classic FM Hall of Fame in 2003] by Peter Maxwell Davies.

By the time Pure Brass played a Lennon & McCartney Beatles Suite, we trusted them to give us something special, and this arrangement provided both familiarity and novel harmonies.

I'm not sure what a jazz enthusiast would have made of Nelson's Fat Lip, to my mind a jazz inspired trombone extravaganza; for me the skill and the light hearted humour were a winning combination.

Audacious programming took us next to John Glenesk Mortimer's arrangement of Mussorgsky's Night on a Bare Mountain.

Our final genre was from the red light districts of the south and deep south USA. Williams' Basin Street Blues was performed with confidence, panache, and a genuine spirit of fun; and Bowman's Twelfth Street Rag, very familiar, was given an extra boost of light-hearted life. I found myself wondering if such joyful renderings were 'properly authentic': but then considered that a lot of our loosely termed 'classical' music has emerged from the seedier side of life!

Their encore, Puttin' on the Ritz, Pure Brass seemed to enjoy as much as we did. The combination of technical skill and infectious good humour must make Pure Brass used to encores. We certainly wanted at least one.