BRETT BAKER Trombone RUTH WEBB Piano
22 March 2012
King's College Chapel
Brett Baker, President of the British Trombone Society and Principal Trombone of the Black Dyke Band proved to be the perfect guide to lead us on a wondrous adventure of exploration and discovery across the intriguing outer limits of the trombone repertoire. With music ranging from the early renaissance to the first decades of the twentieth century, he teased and titillated our musical palates with a selection of little known pieces that drove instrument and player sometimes to the edge of their virtuoso possibilities.
He began with an arrangement by the Swedish trombone virtuoso Christian Lindberg of a piece for solo trombone by an unknown composer c. 1475, Danse La Cleve. I was immediately impressed by the seamless smoothness and bold resonance of Brett Baker’s trombone sound. It was utterly seductive in its appeal. La Hieronyma by Giovanni Martino Cesare added an easy flowing nimble agility to the warmth of tone.
Here and for most of the rest of the recital Brett was sympathetically accompanied on piano by Ruth Webb who had travelled to Aberdeen from Manchester for the concert.
The St. Thomas Sonata by another early unknown composer was discovered in a Czech monastery but was only published 13 years ago. It featured marvellous rapid passages for trombone which were navigated with remarkable fluency and ease by Brett Baker. The next two pieces were in the classical gallant style, the Concerto for Alto Trombone by Wagenseil and the second and third movements of Albrechtsberger’s Concerto for Alto trombone. Considering that Brett Baker was playing these pieces on tenor trombone which made them far more difficult to accomplish gave further proof (as if any were needed) of his amazing mastery of the trombone. Here too, Ruth Webb gave a sparkling performance on piano. Moving on to Carl Heinrich Meyer’s Concertino for bass trombone where much of the music exploits the upper trombone register, descents to the bass notes were accomplished splendidly and leaps between upper and lower registers were smoothly and easily achieved. Somehow for this piece Brett Baker was able to change the whole timbre and attack of his playing giving it extra punch and a rich masculinity.
On to the romantic era, Josef Novakovsky’s Concertino was broad and expansive and the closing variations opened up a world of thrilling virtuoso playing. This was only the beginning however. The rest of the pieces in the programme reached ever more eye-popping levels of virtuosity. Phenomenal Polka by Frederick Innes who was a player in Sousa’s famous band was a fantastic showpiece. Arthur Pryor’s Parisian Melodies was great fun and Clay Smith’s The Water Witch in which Brett Baker achieved a miraculous level of tonguing control proved that many of these little performed pieces deserve more of a hearing. Unfortunately, of course, there are not many instrumentalists who can play them.
The last piece in the official programme was a world premiere. La Valse Moderne by Gardell Simons who played in Sousa’s band before moving on to some of America’s prestigious classical orchestras. The piece has recently been restored and reconstructed and we were privileged to hear this first full modern performance.
A thunderous response from the audience that included some of our local brass stalwarts in addition to the large contingent of music students drew forth an encore for solo trombone – another rarely played composition by Arthur Pryor – his setting of Annie Laurie. Here Brett Baker pushed the limits of his virtuosity further than even before. One of our local trombonists expressed his surprise and delight at this performance by dubbing it “barely legal”. I think I know exactly what he meant!