The Alba Brass quintet, a young group of musicians from Glasgow, gave the first concert of the year for Newton Stewart and District Music Club on Sunday.
This group have a policy of playing, at least for the first half of each concert, music originally written for brass quintets and in the second half playing arrangements. This was amply illustrated on Sunday.
The opening piece was Adam’s Rib by James Macmillan. This is a challenging composition for players and listeners alike and starts with very sombre chords from the lower section of the group and builds through a slow sad chorale to a more brilliant episode before a very quiet ending on muted trumpets. This piece required the players to be secure over the full range of their instruments as well as having control over dynamics and intonation.
This was followed by a 19th century composition by Victor Ewald a Russian composer at the time when brass instruments were evolving. His Quintet number 3 is full of tuneful music which characterises Russian music of the period. The work of 1st trumpet Vicky Williams was evident throughout a piece which was in complete contrast to the previous one.
Another modern Quintet by Scottish composer Eddie MaGuire followed. This was entitled Auriga and is inspired by the five stars which comprise the constellation of that name. Each instrument represents a star. Much use was made of mutes and techniques such as half valve note, glissandi and blowing of air through the instrument. This was another item which challenged everyone.
The second half was in a much lighter vein which was evident from the response of the audience. The group started with an arrangement of Bach’s Fugue in G minor which was played with great accuracy and panache. This was followed by an arrangement of “She Moved Through The Fair” which started with the beautiful sensitive playing of Jamie Shield on French Horn. As the melody moved round the group Paul Stone on Trombone and Bede Williams on trumpet also their sensitive sides.
After a piece of Renaissance music which was lively and varied, the style changed with Alan Fernie’s swing arrangement of “I’ve Got Rhythm”. This displayed the versatility of the group as well as Alan Fernie’s skills as an arranger
The final two items, “Ain’t Misbehaving” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, were arrangements made originally for Canadian Brass, formed in 1970 and recognised as being the world’s most famous brass group. Alba brass managed to convey the humour and musical skill in the music much to the enjoyment of the audience.
As usual the audience demanded an encore and were not disappointed with the “Stars and Stripes For Ever”. Starring here was Andy McKreel who played the soprano cornet part on his tuba in the trio. This was a great ending to a “concert of two halves”: one which introduced the audience to original and in some ways uncomfortable music followed by recognisable musical arrangements which were well within the comfort zone for the audience.
Full marks to the members of Alba Brass for their bravery in programme choice and for the ability to perform it to a high level.