Continental in Cardiff!

4barsrest Review of 'Continental Brass' - Cardiff New Brass Festival (June 11th 2011)


Saturday evening’s Gala Concert saw the performance spotlight fall on two outstanding English soloists, a fine Welsh ensemble and a highly impressive Norwegian band.

The compositional super-trouper also had a youth inspired national focus, with a world premiere from Paul McGhee balanced by freshly minted reprises from Lucy Pankhurst, Cai Isfryn, Simon Dobson, Idar Torskangerpol and Peter Meechan.

The latter will certainly have enjoyed his trip back to Manchester after hearing David Thornton and trumpeter Dean Wright delivered finely honed renditions of his alluring ‘Requiem Paraphrases’ and the fiendishly difficult ‘Apophenia’ – compositions of inventive authority and musical stature.  

Thornton was on superbly relaxed, free flowing form, bringing subtle articulated nuance and stylish phrasing to all three of his solo features.

‘Paraphrases’ reeked of precision and musicality, whilst ‘Blizzard’ by Cai Isfryn, grew in intensity, momentarily becalmed before its finally flurry of elemental drive. 

Lucy Pankhurt’s menacing ‘Tiamat’, inspired by a five-headed mythical dragon that breathes fire, ice, lightening, acid and poisonous gas to kill its foes, was a cracking piece of descriptive writing.

You could feel the rasp of its fumes on the back of your neck as the soloist, in the role of slightly unassuming and doubt ridden ‘Dragon Slayer’, found the power to dispatch the beast before walking into the sunset like a latter day Outlaw Josey Wales to die of his wounds. 

He did so with remarkable stoicism, after a musical wrestling match of epic proportions.

Dean Wright also grappled with an epic triptych of instrumental writing, delivering a bravura ‘Apophenia’ that saw him find a pulsating rhythmic groove in the opening and closing sections balanced by an opaque lyricism in the flugel led central movement.

The zinging piccolo trumpet flourishes in particular were played with a piercing intensity of razor sharp clarity. 

It was a performance of high quality, helped throughout by the excellent backing of the BTM X ensemble (as with David Thornton) led with considerable poise by Nigel Seaman. 

The second half belonged to the impressive Norwegians.

Led by Simon Dobson, they provided a small, but appreciative audience with an intelligently balanced programme, the centrepiece of which was Paul McGhee’s engrossing, ‘A Slow Fade through a Soft Cut’; a work inspired by an intriguing element of script from the disturbing but influential film, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. 

Full of intense textures and the dark pallete colours, it slowly but inexorably drew the listener further and further into its grip, like a viewer looking at the minute detail on the Chapman Brother’s infamous vision of Hell.   

It left an indelible imprint on the musical mind.

Surrounding this enticing darkness came contrasting shafts of polished ensemble and solo light.

Lise Ingebidt was an engaging flugel lead in the idiosyncratic ‘Blamann’ by Idar Torskangerpol, whilst dreamy warmth imbued both the vocal and instrumental delivery of Eric Whitaker’s ‘Sleep’.

Simon Dobson’s tight direction ensured that the fanfare from ‘…Dove Descending’ and the breathless ‘Circius’ were delivered with a compact balance and intelligent appreciation of the booming acoustic.

Lucy Pankhurt’s 70’s inspired cop chase A-Team fizzer, ‘Wired’ was played with just the right pumping back beat style and knowing wit, whilst Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen’s ‘Norwegian Dance’ (introduced by what seemed a yodelling tuba player) and the conductor’s own funky ‘Firefly’ brought the Norwegian’s performance to a satisfyingly upbeat close.

All that was left was the obligatory vote of well earned thanks, and a bit of Cornish march writing the like of which they don’t make any more in Billy Moyles’ ‘Trelawny'.

Moyles wrote ‘The Cornish Cavalier’ (which can sound like a old Vauxhall hatchback from Bodmin at times) and this old bomper was cut from the same oddly enjoyable jib – although played with a tremendous sense of proud as punch swagger by the welcome visitors.  

It ended a fine night of brass playing in equally fine fashion.


Iwan Fox (Copyright


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