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British Tuba Concertos
Edward GREGSON (b. 1945)
Tuba Concerto (1978) [18:52]
Roger STEPTOE (b. 1953)
Tuba Concerto (1983) [14:49]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Tuba Concerto in F minor (1954) [12:54]
John GOLLAND (1946-1993)
Tuba Concerto Op. 46 (1980s) [17:41]
James Gourlay (tuba)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
rec. 3-5 Jan 2004, Phoenix Sound, Wembley. DDD
NAXOS 8.557754 [64:15]


To gather together four British concertos for the same instrument was an excellent idea and continues a line of similar British anthology projects by Sanctuary-ASV and others.

The Gregson launches with a crashing Waltonian foreword before a singing entry by the redoubtable James Gourlay. The music then develops into a cheeky tramping cheeriness which leads to the wanly sighing delight of the second movement. The strings and then the tuba distantly echo the phrasing of Britten’s This ae night from the Serenade. There is a certain eldritch quality to this music. However those cobwebs are completely exorcised by the British film music optimism of the finale. For all that Gregson adds a light overlay of angst this is delightful music. It’s good to hear more Gregson. Readers are referred to the review of the all-Gregson Chandos disc.

Roger Steptoe had several recordings on the Phoenix LP label circa 1980 but then largely dropped from sight. I was pleased to see his name again. His Tuba Concerto is more Rawsthorne than RVW. I thought several times about the Cortege or Street Corner overtures. The movements follow the Delius-Moeran concerto template of Slow-fast-slow. The atmospheric slow movements, especially the finale, feature a cobweb of gentle and wistful dissonance with nostalgia sidling in and out almost imperceptibly.

The Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto is well enough known. It was dedicated to the LSO and was premiered by them on 13 June 1954 with Philip Catelinet and John Barbirolli. The first movement is given a pointed and emphatic reading by Gourlay and Sutherland. In the central Romance I was struck by how strongly Finzian is this string writing although the solo is pure RVW. The Catelinet/Barbirolli recording is in mono and historic sound. John Fletcher’s RCA-BMG recording with Previn and the dedicatee orchestra stands tall even if it is more than three decades old. This Naxos version is in the same league as Fletcher.

The urgency of the Golland reminded me of the angularity of Bernstein and even more of John Williams titles music for the film Towering Inferno. The adagio offers balm in the shape of the bejewelled cinematic romance. Listen out for those superbly eruptive Out Of Africa style French horns. The nonchalant finale has a devil-may-care air and a Street Corner lyricism.

The recording imparts a nice sense of distance and warmth to the music . All the detailing is there but not too clinical.

Four compact British tuba concertos each in three movements. In each case the tuba presents its character as stylish and lyrical singer rather than yahoo buffoon.

Rob Barnett

See also Reviews by Hubert Culot and Christopher Thomas


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