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The euphonium has a relatively rare place in the symphony orchestra, but has assumed an important rôle in wind and brass bands. It is an instrument capable of amazing agility, as revealed in the present recording of original compositions that feature the instrument. These reveal something of the potentiality of this member of the brass family, capable of graceful lyricism and of brilliant panache.
Original Works for Euphonium and Orchestra
Welcome to the exciting world of great music and the euphonium. This landmark recording will take you from the joyous fanfare, Majestic Journey, to the calming and introspective Andantino from the Euphonium Concerto by Vladimir Cosma to the grand finale of showmanship and virtuosity, Pantomime. There are many scenic lookouts on the way, but first a little background before we start the journey.
Sit back and allow me to tell you a story about the euphonium. It is the youngest member of the brass family only being invented around 1835. Since it was invented after the standard instrumentation of the symphony orchestra was established, it does not hold a regular position with major symphony orchestras, but appears in some special works by Holst, Strauss and Mahler. However, it occupies a highly coveted position in wind bands and brass bands and enjoyed a regular solo spotlight in the Sousa Band. As more people experience its wonderful sound and amazing dexterity, they become devout followers and enthusiasts. I have worked tirelessly to promote the euphonium in concerts, teaching, with commissioning new compositions, and making recordings. This first ever full compact disc featuring euphonium with symphony orchestra has been a long-term dream of mine and will certainly continue to elevate the euphonium's reputation. So spread the good word about the euphonium. Now on to music…
Kevin Kaska's Majestic Journey begins our tour with excitement, invigorating the listener with its bold opening statement and intense rhythms. The euphonium counters with a longer lyrical line that captures the wonderful tone of the instrument. Yet, it soon joins the group as quickness and agility win the day and the theme returns in a flourish to complete the work.
Following the grand opening, a soft melody with transparent string textures allows the listener a few moments to relax and reflect on the beauty of music with Peace by John Golland. Golland wrote numerous works for the euphonium and this lovely melody came to the composer while he was travelling on a bus to conduct a concert. Its grace and ambience highlight the singing quality of the euphonium.
The Euphonium Concerto by Vladimir Cosma represents one of the most difficult and satisfying works written for the euphonium. Following a picturesque melody in Peace, we sprint to the other end of the spectrum with a composition that pushes the soloist to the limits. I love to practice and perform this masterpiece because of its great Spanish flavour and rhythmic intensity coupled with the ambience of the second movement followed by the incredibly demanding and pyrotechnical fireworks of the third movement. In its long orchestral introduction, the stage is set and the drama builds for the first mysterious entrance of the euphonium. A quick flourish and we are off to the races with quintessential rhythms and interplay between euphonium and orchestra. The light mood and nimble solo gracefully take the listener by the hand. In the second movement, Andantino, I invite you to close your eyes and let a scene materialize that wafts strong flavours of the tango composer, Astor Piazzolla. The long lyrical lines of the euphonium drift effortlessly across the room and transport the listener to a small café. As the energy builds to a climax, it fades steadily taking the listener full circle and setting them down gently with a gradual winding down of the theme and a resplendent bass note from the euphonium. As we ease the listener back into consciousness, the final movement begins subtly with a refined syncopated rhythm. Yet the joy and energy soon take over as the euphonium zips through rapid passages with ease (it sounds easier than it actually is) that soon starts a five minute accelerando with each recurring statement becoming more intricate and embellished until the final passages that would make even Paganini sweat drive to a swift and exhilarating conclusion.
Returning to the talents of Kevin Kaska, we hear a plaintive melody from the oboe and euphonium to start his Ballade. As more textures develop, our second theme enters with lovely chorale sections and flourishes from the woodwinds leading to a grand climax that is reminiscent of the cinema with its soaring euphonium line. As the momentum recedes, a softer more refined and drifting mood ensues as the work draws to a close.
Peter Graham's Brillante harkens to the time of a theme and variations solo but embraces modern ideas. While paying tribute to the UK and to the Queen by using the theme, Rule Britannia by Thomas Arne, Peter also casts light on the lineage of the Childs Brothers for whom the work was written in 1986 with a lyrical interlude based on the Welsh tune, 'Men of Harlich'. From the driving opening and flourishes by the soloist, one can tell it is going to be an exciting ride to the finish. A cadenza aptly demonstrates the skills of the soloist and finishes with a four octave chromatic scale before our main theme emerges. The pace quickens with the variations before the tour-de-force finale ensues and the piece finishes triumphantly.
We are sadly nearing the conclusion of this musical journey. Philip Sparke stands as one of the most prolific composers for wind bands and brass bands in the United Kingdom. Ensembles from around the globe commission him regularly and he has written many compositions for euphonium. Philip is a friend of mine whom I met during my study in the United Kingdom. I had to have at least one work on the recording alluding to my experiences and time spent studying and performing with brass bands. What better choice than Pantomime. One interesting note Philip related to me was that he wrote it out of friendship and this often supersedes any motivation that a monetary reward may produce. Pantomime exemplifies this quality and it represents one of the most popular compositions written for the euphonium (and is a favourite of my mother). Its opening melody grasps the listener immediately with its wide rising intervals. As the music progresses, the soloist ornaments the lyrical theme before a short cadenza launches into a rollicking 10/8 mixed metre that will remind many listeners of Bernstein. This jaunty section allows the soloist to show great finesse before a soothing interlude from the orchestra calms the music momentarily. The euphonium returns and casts an elegant melody before a tremendously florid passage returns to the 10/8 mixed metre. From here, the only place to go is faster and higher for the soloist and the listener is very well rewarded with the final 60 seconds of virtuosity and eye-popping brilliance!