TAKING ON THE TUBA - BB meets rising star, Sarah Billard

Issue 6066

CULTURE RECOVERY - Black Dyke receives £76,000 funding boost

DEAFENING SILENCE - Liv Appleton imagines a life without the arts

Review: BrassPass: In the Spotlight. Episode eight: Thomas Fountain.

Tuesday 13 October, 2020

Review: BrassPass: In the Spotlight. Episode eight St Thomas' Church, Stockport. October 2, 2020 Soloist: Thomas Fountain. Accompanist: Ruth Hollick.

At a time where we require inspiration, entertainment and positivity, BrassPass.tv has brought to us the In the Spotlight series. Kindly sponsored by Geneva and supported by Arts Council England, this series features some of the brass band world’s finest soloists, many of whom are Geneva artists. Recently it was the turn of Thomas Fountain to perform a highly entertaining short recital, presented by Brett Baker, in the beautiful surroundings of St Thomas’ Church in Stockport.

Thomas chose to play the Caprice by French composer Eugene Bozza to open the programme in atmospheric fashion. The acoustics in the venue are wonderfully lively and Thomas used them to his advantage, regardless of the style or technical difficulty. The literal definition of a caprice is “a sudden change of mood or behaviour”, and one of the most notable features of Thomas’ playing in this opener was the ability to change tone colour instantaneously. As the piece progressed into more florid passages, there would be no way of realising that this music is incredibly complex and technically demanding as Thomas glided with apparent ease.

It would be unfair to talk exclusively about the soloist, however, as the accompanist Ruth Hollick was excellent throughout. Aside from her obvious mastery of the instrument, Ruth’s ability to aid the style changes and complement the soloist was exemplary, adding another dimension to this already sublime performance. The subtle dynamic changes were so well presented, especially in a lively acoustic, adding further to the capricious nature of the performance. This was a highly professional and satisfying opening to an excellent performance.

Made famous by Maurice Murphy, Thomas elected to switch from trumpet to cornet, playing the stunning Sunshine of Your Smile. A lovely, simple melody can be one of the most beautiful things to listen to and this was a welcome breather after a relatively high-brow start to the programme. There was such a synchronised rubato between the accompanist and soloist, so much so that one could forget that this was a live recital; the musical communication was faultless. Thomas possesses one of the most famous cornet sounds in the brass band circuit with such a sweet vibrato, enhanced by smooth, effortless lines. Both soloist and accompanist had an apparent appreciation of the harmony of the music, with tension built through the line and released on the closing cadences of the phrase. This performance was a masterclass of control and airflow, perfectly demonstrated throughout.

Returning to the trumpet, Rondo for Lifey by Leonard Bernstein was a short but classy inclusion to this programme. Bernstein wrote a series of pieces, depicting the dogs that his nearest and dearest owned, with Rondo for Lifey in dedication to his good friend, Judy Holliday and her dog Lifey. This piece opens with a longing cadenza which was played with such space and variation in tone colour. This recital was a showcase of excellent cadenza playing, with every unaccompanied phrase integrated into the style of the music. As the piece progresses into the quirky staccato passages, the quirkiness of the music is highlighted with comical interjections from soloist and accompanist. These inflections were subtle and effective, ensuring that this music never became slapstick, with more graceful humour observed. A consistent trait of Thomas’ playing is his ability to make difficult music look easy; a result of hard work practising the technical side of the instrument and a natural eye for shape and line.

To close the programme, Solo De Concours by Theo Charlier was an appropriate inclusion. In the early 20th century the Paris Conservatoire set new pieces for auditions, with Solo de Concours selected for 1900. Many people will know Charlier’s name from his famous studies for trumpet, combining melodic challenges with technical hurdles to overcome.

The opening range in which the trumpet is required to play is extreme; many of the passages would be uncomfortable on Eb trumpet. This was dispatched with ease by Thomas on a Bb trumpet, highlighting his control through the range. There was a mastery of muted playing on show also, with not only the selection of mutes enhancing the music, but the intonation faultless and the vitality of the sound perfectly retained. Through the final flourishes of the recital the triple tonguing was razor sharp; every note was crystal clear and still so well shaped. This conclusion to the programme summed up the recital in one piece: classy, exciting and professional.

A must watch for all, this performance was encapsulating as well as doubling up as a lesson in so many aspects of playing. Throughout, the audio quality was excellent, providing a perfect balance between soloist and accompanist, as well as authentically representing the natural class of Thomas Fountain.

Matthew Rowe