at the Civic Theatre Chelmsford
Trumpet legend John Wallace brought the Philharmonia Brass to the Civic for a revelatory evening of arrangements.
“You'll never see so many brass players on one stage,” he assures us in his entertaining pre-concert conversation. And I can believe him, since here, sitting alongside the Phil's brass players for Brian Lynn's Fanfare for Essex, are young musicians from the Essex Youth Brass Ensemble. A great idea – and they came back after the interval under their director Steve Drury, playing a cue from the Victorian Kitchen Garden.
Two Eric Crees arrangements from the professionals, with Wallace conducting: Bach's familiar Toccata and Fugue, with a splendid palette of colours as the tune was tossed around. Though maybe a little more reverberation in the acoustic would have blended them better. And sounding like “a pit band on heat” [Wallace], the Suite from West Side Story.
To end, an astonishing arrangement by Elgar Howarth of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Amazing feats of versatility, and otherworldly sounds, from the band ranged in a wide-screen arc across the Civic stage. An off-stage trumpet for Il Vecchio Castello, rumbling drums for the ox-cart, xylophone and some unbelievable trumpet effects for the Unhatched Chicks.
Brilliant playing, from virtuosi at the top of their game. Let's hope they can be persuaded back to Chelmsford soon. When perhaps we could have a better programme booklet – this time £2 bought us two whole pages on the Philharmonia [mother-ship to this ensemble] but nothing at all on Wallace or the pieces played.