How grand to have this collection of works for solo tuba and orchestra presented with such obvious skill and attention-to-detail by all concerned. Those new to the music will be delighted with the variety of forms, styles and moods; for the rest, it is but to marvel at the result.
Øystein Baadsvik employs his virtuosity in every bar of Vaughan Williams’ lyrical essay. The jaunty “Prelude” set a buoyant tone that may well surprise those expecting more Tubby the Tuba than melodic invention and delicate interplay. The orchestra was ideally suited both to the transparent texture and conductor Anne Manson’s precise, assertive direction: collectively easing into the cadenza and its closing “going home” cadence were beautifully done.
The “Romanza” allowed Baadsvik to conduct a master class in phrasing and seamless legato, even as a bit of the blues added extra poignancy to the melodic lines. Only bringing the trumpets a notch or two more forward could have improved the recording balance.
The soloist readily scampered through the “Rondo alla Tedesca” and dared his colleagues to keep up: in virtually every measure, Manson and her talented charges did just that.
Alexander Arutiunian’s contribution to this infrequently heard repertoire is a completely engaging trio of movements. The “Allegro moderato” leapt off the page with zesty colour and a wonderful sense of fun. Baadsvik served up a heady combination of technique and tune, peppered by the composer with bits of jazz and deft utilization of the xylophone as the perfect aural foil to the solo line’s brassy timbre.
Following a thoughtful, opening introduction from the low strings and bassoon, Manson proved the wisdom of selecting a tempo that favoured the walking side of andante, allowing Baadsvik to pleasantly enter into conversational episodes with individuals (notably the refined clarinet) or groups (the full-bodied violas). From time to time, everything was gently punctuated by the harp.
The “Allegro non troppo” took off like a shot. Legions of notes burbled happily out of the tuba; perhaps a touch less accent on the final one of each group might add still more unity to the soloist/accompaniment back-and-forth. On the heels of an intriguingly coquettish, contrasting idea, the solo bassoon skilfully prepared the way to the extended cadenza—itself another marvel of low-brass artistry featuring a superb change-of-register and variety/clarity of articulation that made the time vanish. The carefully orchestrated return benefitted greatly from Manson’s firm dynamic control, which drove the music to a first-class finish.
Due in part to the smaller forces employed (strings and piano), Torbjörn Lundquist’s Landscape contained the most introspective and intimate moments of the set. Framed at both ends by the oh-so-low C-sharp, the writing is a fine balance of rugged, ostinato-rich, impassioned accompaniments and the smooth, wide-ranging melodic lines/primal cries from the protagonist. The opening soliloquy featured superb breath control, tone production and nuanced phrasing. When the orchestra entered (and in the closing measures) there was just a hint of Carmina Burana-like harmony, adding further allure to this deeply felt study of man and the natural world. Manson adroitly managed to keep the ebb and flow on a purposeful path; the solo violinist soared sweetly to the heavens in ideal opposition to Baadsvik’s seemingly effortless tide of far-reaching melodies that, by journey’s end, disappeared quietly, al niente.
Not at all surprisingly, John Williams’ Concerto conjures up many images. The nautical lilt of the “Allegro moderato” was complemented and swept out to compositional sea with waves of melody, chirpy woodwinds and a particularly chatty trombone. A slow middle-section sent the soloist down to Davey Jones’ locker first surrounded by, then at one with Baadsvik’s colleagues of the brass. Here, the ensemble couldn’t have been better. A languid English horn moved the proceedings seamlessly into an “Andante” where the searing flute—over a bed of cool strings—engaged in a pair of reflections with the tuba whose octave leaps were models of embouchure control and emotional feeling. Over a dark pedal, a jolly fanfare announced the concluding “Allegro molto.” Soon the air was filled with primordial utterings, chords and rhythms that could well be renamed The Rite of Tuba, bringing the music and this exceptionally well-produced disc to the proverbial finish-with-a-bang. JWR