A4BQ Brass Quartet

Concert date: 23 February 2020
Reviewed by: JRC

A4BQ Brass Quartet gave a stunning performance at the Courtenay Centre last Sunday. All from The North, they brought with them a rare combination of charisma and musical excellence. They took the stage and immediately we had up-beat virtuoso musicianship of a work composed by Jonathan Bates, a member of the Quartet. Naturally this work, Toccata, was unfamiliar to the majority of us, but how it showcased the capabilities of the group!

Jamie Smith [Cornet/Flugelhorn] introduced us to the A4BQ group, unique in their combination of instruments, making them “ . . . best in the World”. As a result, their repertoire, with its origins stretching from the 19thcentury to the 21stcentury, is either written for them or arranged by them. After that level of northern frankness, we heard an arrangement by Chris Roberton [Euphonium] of Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville. Their languid entrance built expectation superbly until we were skipping along with the familiar melody. Rossini would have loved it. Next we had an arrangement of Goedicke’s Concert Etude [originally for trumpet and piano] where Michael Cavavagh’s more mellow Baritone Horn was the soloist.

And as a piece of superb programme planning, the like of which continued through the evening, we had a complete change of tempo and mood with the Japanese composer Sato’s Tsunangari. A4BQ came down from the stage and spread across the breadth of the hall, an acoustic refinement of performance which enhanced the calm warmth of this work. Next came the light and upbeat Percy Grainger’s Molly on the Shore, and just to keep our faculties acute, some arresting dissonances of Gregson followed. The interleaving of the familiar with the novel continued with Elgar, Ellerby, Langford [Fantasia on British Sea Songs] and Bartok. A particularly effective arrangement and rendering of the Traditional Loch Lomond was followed by Piazzolla’s Libertango; a shocking juxtaposition of mood and styles if ever there was one, and A4BQ pulled it off. The importance of silence and the use of rubato conjured a sensuous atmosphere quite new for this concert; and then we had Bruckner’s Locus Iste. A4BQ again came down from the stage, a theatrical ruse maybe, but one that worked. Sublime reverence wafted over us, and pauses were beautifully executed. There was stunned silence before applause broke out. That’s special.

Arban’s Carnival of Venice was to follow, as an arrangement by Chris Robinson; perhaps unsurprisingly his Euphonium is cast for the virtuoso major role. By this time the credentials of the group were well and truly established with the audience, and clowning between the Cornet and Euphonium was just another layer of amusement and wonder. Such panache and skill drew a roar of applause.

We then heard two movements from Overhead’s Miniatures for [A4] Brass Quartet, inspired by the composer’s nephew and nieces. The first was lively and syncopated, the second, a simple melody in fugue-like form: a delightful finale. We had already been promised an encore if we clapped enough. No question, we got a rousing encore.

It should be noted that rarely has there been such familiarity and rapport between performers and audiences at NADSA concerts. One really has to take one’s hat off to A4QB for breaking the mould and making this concert such a rip-roaring success.

For this performance Helen Varley substituted for Jonathan Bates on Tenor Horn

NADSA Concert, Sunday 23rd February 3.00pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.