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G Gabrieli, Howarth, Ives

Academy Symphonic Brass/Elgar Howarth/Mark David

RAM, Duke's Hall, 5 October 2012

A splendidly conceived and presented showcase for the Royal Academy of Music's Brass Department, one that has the makings of a future CD (better a DVD, but film cameras were not in evidence).

Gabrieli Canzoni etc are the backbone for brass consorts (whether modern or period) and several of them bookended and punctuated this concert. Of "contemporary" music, Ives' From the Steeples and the Mountains for brass and bells (1901 !) was the most radical...

Howarth's commission for this concert eschewed poetry for Venice - A Portrait a concert work with four singers illustrating the importance of all the arts in that city, celebrating named musicians and visual artists of all disciplines over four centuries - a didactic work which deserves wider concert life and would, for example, get a positive response from a Proms audience; RAM's Symphonic Brass could do a late night Prom based on this programme, to likely acclamation.

A muster of schoolchildren, many of them brass students, some quite small, filled the Gallery with admirable decorum and involved appreciative listening.

Peter Grahame Woolf


Debussy Ravel
& Harvey

Laurie Bamon Silent Roads
Debussy Jeux, poème dansé
Jonathan Harvey
...towards a pure land
Ravel La valse, poème chorégraphique

Academy Symphony Orchestra/Brabbins

Royal Academy of Music Duke’s Hall, London
21 October 2011

A remarkable concert by one of UK's finest student orchestras, fully professional standards enhanced by the excellent ambience of Dukes Hall and an excited audience of supporters.

A new student composition, under student conductor Alissa Firsova, was more a conceptual study than music per se (poetical references to silence, slowness etc...) - that is the way with training (in the visual arts too) these days.

The same has been urged against Harvey's "pure land" with his familiar Buddhist pre-occupations [see Proms review below*], but this dedicated revival prepared by Martyn Brabbins [L] proved an absorbing experience, marred only by the absence of the composer, who is occupied far more abroad than in UK, where his music is to be heard only very intermittently.

The two French ballet scores were each, in their very different ways, thrilling, and it is wonderful that the best student orchestras can now match professional symphony orchestras.

Brabbins was cheered to the rafters by the orchestra; this was altogether a more satisfying concert than most of those to be heard in our chief London concert halls.

Peter Grahame Woolf

*Jonathan Harvey’s … towards a pure land is an abstract construction of some seventeen minutes duration. The composer’s own programme note - - betrayed the workings of a confused mind - - no more than verbal posturing to mask a lack of substance? With precious little fluidity in evidence the work sat in its own state of stasis, seemingly arising from nothing – to which it would eventually return - - limited by trying to make much out of too little - - stuck at a constant ppp or mf – which succeeded in de-humanising the music, making it mere sound. - - The Proms audience, many of whom around me also searched in vain for much meaningful substance, gave the work a polite if none too enthusiastic reception [Seen&Heard, Proms 2006]

Mahler's 5th at RAM

Academy Concert Orchestra/Semyon Bychkov

Duke's Hall, 11 May 2012

The same week that we enjoyed from LSO an exceptional Bartok performance in a concert of a lifetime, RAM students came up with a stupendous Mahler V, the huge Academy Concert Orchestra meticulously prepared by Semyon Bychkov [Pictured in rehearsal], a great Mahlerian.

Tempi were perfectly judged (e.g. the Adagietto not too slow as often) and from upstairs the overwhelming sound of one of the largest orchestras ever heard there was unforgettable.

I speak with some experience, as I was probably the only audience member to have heard one of the first Mahler symphony performances in England, No 5 with the LPO under Heinz Unger.

- - soon after the War in London's Cambridge Theatre, with the LPO struggling manfully with this strange and demanding music - at rehearsal it proved hard for their first trumpeter, getting increasingly red-faced, to get beyond the opening call to attention to the satisfaction of Heinz Unger - -

No worries for Danilo Oliveira at RAM - the brass section was resplendent and completely reliable, and indeed each section of the orchestra acquitted itself magnificently, to roars of applause as Bychkov singled out each in turn [see above].

I would trust that the live recording being made might find its way onto an RAM CD? It wouldn't shrink in the least by comparison with the standard professional recordings.

Peter Grahame Woolf