LSO Brass Ensemble (review)

Appearing in the ten-part line-up that was pioneered by the legendary Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, the London Symphony Orchestra brass section returned to the Barbican Hall following a successful concert as part of their recent tour to Japan. The evening’s programme highlighted the seemly natural talent of trombone players as arrangers alongside the UK premiere of the effective Where Clouds Meet the Sea, by Ayanna Witter-Johnson. 

The concert opened with James Maynard’s virtuosic arrangement of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G major, a striking start to the evening. Next, Two Intermezzi, a skilled piece of work from former LSO Principal Trombone, Eric Crees. This pair of arrangements draws from Johannes Brahms’ Klavierstücke, a farewell to his favourite instrument, the piano. 

Continuing the theme of keyboard music, we heard another original arrangement by James Maynard; four of Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Piece which showing off the groups skilled ensemble playing very nicely. The first half concluded with a charming new work by LSO’s Panufnik and Soundhub composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s Where Clouds Meet the Sea; a beautifully written piece that superbly highlighted the lyrical qualities of each brass instrument. 

We began the second half with nine of of Bach’s original 30 Goldberg Variations, stylishly arranged by the LSO’s Principal Trombone, Dudley Bright. From here, we moved onto some of the lighter repertoire for the ensemble, starting with Jim Parker’s fantastic Londoner in New York. A jazz-influenced suite written for the players that made this ensemble size so popular, the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. Mark Nightingale’s selections from Porgy and Bess provided a final display of wonderful arrangements (by trombone players!) and showed off another side to the ensembles playing. 

It was wonderful to see the LSO brass players feature for the evening, particularly with such classy ensemble playing. It was enough to inspire any ensemble, brass or otherwise. Patrick Harrild also added to the experience with his humorous tales of working with the players. However, it was the programme really made it for me this evening, putting the well-known next to the brand new was very effective, and this collection of pieces introduced us all to the huge variety brass playing has to offer. The evening finished with an encore by the infamous bass trombone player, Raymond Premru, ‘Blues March’ from his Divertimento, the final track of Philip Jones Brass Ensemble’s album ‘The Lighter Side’. A fitting end to this very thoughtful programme. 

First published in the Winter 2015 edition of The Trombonist.