Tredegar Band at the Proms; HMS Pinafore; Poulenc double calculus – review

The high twinkle of five tubas, clocks up, held at an angle as if choreographed, each player almost hidden behind an expanse of gleaming brass. This is the picture I will carry from Tredegar Bandhis thrilling performance at two BBC Proms. In orchestral concerts, the term “clocks up” has a specific meaning, especially used in a Mahler symphony, when the French horns are instructed to play with instruments raised to achieve a visual and aural climax. In a brass band, the spectacle is part of its nature: cornets, flugelhorns, tenor and baritone horns, euphoniums and, lowest of all, tubas, a bobbing sea of ​​coiled pipes, valves, pistons, playing as one. If the band is world-class, as in the case of this award-winning Welsh ensemble, its performance will have subtlety, precision and rock-solid discipline.

On Monday, the band, founded in 1876, collaborated with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conductor Ryan Bancroft to give the world premiere of Concerto Grosso by Gavin Higgins. The composer grew up in a former mining environment, played in bands, and understands the idiom and the range. In five movements, this ingenious work united the two worlds of sound, drawing on the most familiar brass styles: fanfares, expressive chorales and breakneck virtuosity in competition style. In Tuesday evening’s concert, the band was led by Ian Porthouse, their inspirational conductor for the past 14 years. The music ranged from Richard Strauss to a Judy Garland medley via Vaughan Williams, encapsulating a brief history of brass band music in the process.

Watching Porthouse hit a pretty nimble four for a wild version of The Devil in I by Slipknot was a lesson in sangfroid

Tredegar and similar bands feed the brass sections, especially trumpets, in our symphony orchestras. But most of the players are amateurs, with full-time jobs in other walks of life. Later I asked for more information. After the late prom, they arrived home in South Wales at 4.45am “still buzzing”. One member, a radiographer, was back at work at 8am. Brass bands have moved beyond their old association with heavy industry, but the tight-knit community of musicians they attract, across generations and families, continues to tie them closely to geographic regions.

In the Tredegar Band, Porthouse’s wife and son play the cornets. (Tredegar has included women since the 1950s.) The chairman, nearly 90, followed his father into the band, and the connection thus spans more than a century. Watching Porthouse strike a pretty nimble four, as in a regular march, for a wild version of The Devil in I by heavy metal group Slipknot was a lesson in sangfroid. He could route any mainstream rival off the podium. The encores continued, increasingly exuberant, as the clock moved toward midnight. Take them back soon.

Getting to the late prom meant scaling the railings (literally, dangerously; details on request) to make the dash from Opera Holland Park sparkling HMS Pinafore to the Royal Albert Hall. This collaboration with the Charles Court Opera, directed by John Savournin, who also sang Captain Corcoran, updated Gilbert and Sullivan to the 1940s. As always with OHP, the excellent dozen-strong chorus were adept in voice and movement, and fitness levels too, as they strutted around the large stage as they sang.

By playing it straight, without strenuous contemporary references and with an emphasis on drill, the work’s humor gained full speed. The City of London Sinfonia, conducted by David Eaton, was crisp and energetic. With Lucy Schaufer, displaying impeccable comic timing as Little Buttercup, the shrewd bumboat woman, and Richard Burkhard as Sir Joseph Porter leading a lively cast, Opera Holland Park has finished the season in style.

Glyndebourne’s Poulenc double bill, conducted by Robin Ticciati, directed by Laurent Pelly and designed by Caroline Ginet, deserves uncomplicated but heartfelt praise for its performance. IN La Voix HumaineStéphanie d’Oustrac played Elle, spilling her heart out into a phone on a mostly black stage, her voice swelling with agony, at times raspy, at others lyrical.

In contrast, the comedy Read Mamelles de Tirésias (The breasts of Tiresias), based on the play by Apollinaire, invited us into a surreal, sherbert-tinged world where underlying darkness – gender issues, a post-war population crisis – is triumphantly banished by mercurial music, stylishly played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Pelly’s flawless staging. Elsa Benoit and Régis Mengus charmed as the frustrated wife and her by no means ordinary husband.

Star ratings (out of five)
Tredegar Band
HMS Pinafore
Poulenc double bill

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