SPOTLIGHT ON: ISOBEL DAWS - Talented trombonist on her flourishing career

Issue 6072

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Album review: Éire Time - Gary Curtin (euphonium) and Foden's Band

Friday 13 November, 2020

Éire Time - Gary Curtin (euphonium) and Foden's Band | Conductor: Michael Fowles | Doyen.

As one of the leading euphonium players of his generation, casual observers would be well within their rights to assume Gary Curtin must have released a slew of solo albums. In fact, this is his first – but it was certainly worth the wait.

The Irish star, who occupies the principal chair at Foden’s after enjoying similar roles with the likes of Black Dyke, Fairey and Wingates, opens with the title track, Éire Time. Providing more than a nod to his cultural roots, Andrea Price’s work offers ample opportunity for the fizzing musical fireworks we have come to expect from this celebrated soloist. Gary's innate musicianship rises to the fore in The Water is Wide, arranged by Stephen Roberts, elegantly turning the corner from phrase to phrase – and demonstrating his ease in the upper register.

Éire Time is a multi-layered album, balancing well-established favourites with new commissions and arrangements of substance. Cantiphonia, a concerto for euphonium and brass band by Bert Appermont, is given an outing in a new arrangement by Paul McGhee. Contrasting musical ideas are woven through the opening Contrasti, purposeful dotted lines giving way to endearing melodies and rhythmic grooves. Gary handles each with consummate ease, seemingly unfazed. The Romanza embraces musical influences of composers like Rachmaninov, a heartrending lyricism permeating this movement. It’s nicely understated, ensuring that the climatic moments are all the more effective when they ultimately arrive. After broad, sinister openings, the Fugato hurtles along at breakneck speed. A sense of tension and impending danger underpin this movement but the ominous feelings are not shared by band and soloist, more than a match for this engaging score.

Brass in Concert attendees in 2018 will fondly recall hearing Gary take centre stage early in the morning and delivering a sumptuous performance of Eternal Source of Light Divine, by Jonathan Bates. After an ethereal opening, soaring into the euphonium’s upper reaches, sparks fly and Gary demonstrates the unbridled virtuosity which has become his hallmark.

In December 2019, Gary and wife Leanne welcomed son Jamie into the world. His birth is celebrated in From Your Smile, by Paul Lovatt-Cooper. The work befits the childlike innocence associated with a newborn baby; gentle, heart-warming and a treasured way of marking one of the most remarkable moments any parent will surely experience.

Dance of the Goblins jolts anyone experiencing a misty-eyed moment firmly back into the present, Antonio Bazzini’s frenetic musical lines providing another opportunity for the soloist to showcase jaw-dropping mastery of his instrument. It sets up the musical palette for a major work commissioned by Gary especially for the album.

Tom Harrold’s Deep Surge is a musical depiction of a continual struggle, the soloist pitted against an unrelenting accompaniment. The sense of conflict and unease is apparent throughout, with the florid solo lines continually trying to shake off the shackles of the accompaniment – and in Foden’s is a band which plays the role to perfection. The playing from soloist and band is of the highest calibre, Michael Fowles drawing a tremendous variety of tonal colour from the deliciously-devilish accompaniment.

In Christ Alone, with its triumphant melody, is performed with ease while Vallfickans Dans provides a rip-roaring romp around the euphonium, the outer sections bookending a fleeting melodic moment for soloist and band which rises to the musical stratosphere.

The variety is compounded as Gary momentarily puts down the euphonium and transports the listener to Top of the Pops in the 1990s as he sings Oleta Adams’ hit Get Here if You Can. John Barber (keyboard), Jim Fieldhouse (sax), Anthony Mann (drumkit) and Andy Cattanach (bass) provide a sympathetic accompaniment to a voice of remarkable control and panache.

Bringing the curtain down is another solo which Gary has used so effectively on stage, Allen Vizzutti’s Carnival of Venus, arranged by Jonathan Bates. From the initial outing of the melody, hurtling from one end of the register to the other, the piece is more evidence of this phenomenal talent. Foden’s Band is a dream team for any soloist with which to work, while Michael Fowles ensures the balance, organisation and precision of the accompaniment is on point throughout. The sleeve notes are detailed, presented in a clear, engaging fashion by Mango Design.

Gary Curtin is an extraordinary soloist and his debut album encapsulates his limitless ability on the euphonium. The varied repertoire will appeal to those within and beyond the band scene, performed by someone who is fast establishing himself among the pantheon of the greatest exponents of the instrument today.

Mark Good

Programme: 5

Performance: 5

Overall Presentation: 5

Recording Quality: 5