The tuba has always been one of my favourite instruments (especially during my navy band days).
The album lifts off with Viet Cuong’s Concerto for Tuba and Wind Ensemble.
The three-movement work, wonderfully bookended by a pair of Chaconnes, is an ideal vehicle to display soloist Justin Benavidez’s artful tones, ease of register and just enough vibrato to sing rather than overwhelm.
The opening Chaconne is crystal clear, but a touch more presence from the Florida State University Wind Ensemble (ably led by Patrick Dunnigan) could only improve the mix.
Literally at the heart of it all, Canticle, lets the emotions on both sides of the podium expand and soar as befits the temperament of the listener.
Seamlessly “slipping” into the concluding Chaconne, the ear is rewarded with touches of playfulness and a wide-ranging cadenza that can’t fail to delight.
For Gustav Mahler’s legendary Songs of a Wayfarer, Benavidez (who also did the arrangement) is joined by pianist Deloise Lima.
“When My Beloved Has Her Wedding Day” is ideally balanced, artfully presented and offers a superb change of register from Benavidez.
“This Morning When I Went Ober the Field”—so nice to visit an old friend in new clothes.
“I Have a Red-hot Knife” immediately exudes power unleashed! Feel the heat then enjoy the calm.
“The Two Blue Eyes of My Beloved”: lovingly portrayed, no one will fail to get the message (lyrics or not), Lima is particularly sensitive.
Todd Goodman’s Concerto for Tuba and Wind Ensemble (again with Florida State Wind Orchestra, this time conducted by Richard Clary) feels like a study of mood swings.
“Introspective” (after a magical/mystical opening, soon finds its way to a comfort and conversational interplay—notably the bassoon), makes full use of Benavidez’s impressive range and features a few welcome jazzy elements. Most certainly “Mysterious, slow and expressive” sings on demand, then alternates between a dark side and optimism. “Fast and furious” also fulfills its billing”: “Let’s be off”—an infectious vrai toe-tapper.
Anna Baadvsik’s New Kid, initially, feels like a melancholic song without words (once again Lima artfully carries the piano honours). Overall, it’s a pleasant journey with a couple of harmonic surprises, building the intensity before calming down…whatever reality is these days.
Claude Debussy’s Prelude from Suite Bergamasque (once more arranged by Benavidez) is an impassioned, welcome sorbet to this album, replete with contrasting lengths and styles.
Any child would this lullaby by Eric Whitacre, Goodnight Moon (brought to wordless life by Benavidez). Bien dormir.
The CD concludes with Allen Vizzutti’s Cityscape for Solo Tuba and Wind Ensemble (David Plack conducts the Florida State University Symphonic Band).
As earlier, the balance seems to overshadow the soloist and leave the ensemble less than “present”. “Uptown” is immediately burst before Benavidez readily takes stage (and the ensemble is generally good, but a nickel short of razor sharp).
In “Midtown”, with its much calmer soundscape, Benavidez brings his sunny disposition from the top register to the depths.
Downtown” sizzles from stem to stern, with its cadenza fuelled by this marvellous tuba virtuoso in every measure. JWR