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Review: OUBB Michaelmas Term Concert

Claire Frampton reviews the Oxford University Brass Band’s end of term concert which took place on Sunday 24th November

At the Holywell Music Room, the close proximity to the performers allowed for an intimate concert setting. With a new conductor, Danny Riley, the repertoire was representative of classic pieces for brass band as well as arrangements of pieces not originally written for this type of ensemble. In this concert OUBB demonstrated a range of styles from broad sweep of eras in the history of music, including secular and religious works, evoking a variety of atmospheres and locations though beautiful and enthusiastic playing.

The first piece, a brass band adaptation of the Overture from Bernstein’s 1956 operetta, Candide, set the tone for the evening with a bond fanfare-style entrance. This was one of the main themes. During the development of this theme, the introduction of the xylophone, playing part of the melody, was particularly effective. A contrasting section with a romantic melody demonstrated a swift change in mood; the piece was originally written to showcase the variety of musical themes within the operetta.

Candlelight Carol is one of John Rutter’s most famous carols and the inclusion of this in the programme fit with the season. The more leisurely pace and simpler structure of this piece with its focus on solo melodies, made an effective contrast with the Bernstein.

OUBB then played Wilfred Heaton’s Golden Pen with gusto. Heaton spent much of his career writing for brass band so, unlike the earlier pieces in the concert, the March was originally written for this type of ensemble. The performance did evoke a marching band with the lower instruments marking the percussive beat at the beginning and expressing the military style as the main theme of the piece was repeated at varying volumes and in different combinations of instruments. Similarly, a strong opening and brisk tempo in George Allan’s Knight Templar demonstrated OUBB’s ability to play a famous march successfully.

The Rhapsody for Euphonium by James Curnow showcased the musical skill of the euphonium soloist, beginning with a lyrical theme which was then joined by the rest of the band, while the performance of John Barry’s Born Free (1966), originally written as part of a film soundtrack, was a hearty rendition. This evoked the atmosphere of the wild country of Kenya, where the film is set.

A steady and moving performance of Blaenwern, a Welsh, religious tune, gave a distinctive regional flavour and a serious nostalgic mood to the concert. This then contrasted with the evocation of a lunar landscape with the performance of Paul Lovett Cooper’s Dark Side of the Moon (2007).

The concert ended with themes from Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, arranged for brass band – a serious way to end a concert which had traversed many time periods and genres.

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