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Issue 6088

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IFOR JAMES - The horn player who tried to change the horns 

Review: Matryoshka - Ross Dunne (tenor horn) and Tredegar Town Band

Tuesday 30 March, 2021

Review: Matryoshka - Ross Dunne (tenor horn) and Tredegar Town Band.

Conductor: Ian Porthouse

Doyen

 

In challenging times, a little inspiration goes a long way. Devoid of live, in-person music making, many have seen motivation dip, unable to engage in many of the treasured activities which usually bring joy, solace and a feeling of belonging. Anyone relating to that sentiment would be well-advised to listen to this new release from Tredegar Town Band and its principal horn player, Ross Dunne, who brings a healthy dose of musical remedies in the form of debut solo album, Matryoshka.

Recorded before the first lockdown, the project was inevitably delayed but has finally come to fruition – and makes an impression from the outset. The Allegro from Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto is treated with poise and elegance, each line given time to breathe, a lightness of touch apparent throughout.

The album boasts a comfort blanket of well-known tunes. Autumn Leaves, so often performed on the trombone, sits nicely in the horn’s register and Ross Dunne subtly embraces every musical twist and turn, displaying a rich, chocolatey quality to his tone. Likewise in The Lark in the Clear Air, in which the lines are neatly shaped without becoming overly sentimental, every phrase given the care and attention which is vital when approaching music inextricably linked to words. With musical expression, it’s often about the little things and the shaping of the phrases in Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen is a mark of the musicianship of this talented performer.

To pigeon-hole this release as merely a collection of well-trodden horn standards would be wholly inaccurate. Daniel Hall’s Forgetting How to be Human is one of two new commissions and conveys a sense of uncertainty from the outset, the soloist scurrying around the instrument over the top of dramatic flourishes from the band.

This is music that never seems to settle, like a fast-paced TV thriller that scarcely allows the viewer time to draw breath, and the listener is taken around every twist and turn of this tantalising tale. Kudos to Owen Farr, a horn player of the highest calibre and a friend and mentor to Ross, for identifying the suitability of the finale of Haydn’s Cello Concerto for the tenor horn. In Tredegar’s principal horn, this virtuosic work has met its match, the intricate lines projecting clearly above the band, which never threatens to dominate.

Owen Farr’s arranging prowess also comes to the fore in his setting of the famous aria from Dvorak’s 1901 opera, Rusalka, the Song to the Moon. Understated to open, soloist and band carefully pick the moments to open up, blossoming during those pleading calls from the opera’s eponymous character, begging the moon to reveal her love to the prince.

The focal point of the album is title track, Matryoshka, by Jasper Dommett. Another new commission, the extended work is in four movements, the title the Russian word for nesting dolls, the ornaments of varying sizes which neatly fit within each other. Such a structure provided inspiration for the composer and the result is a piece which exists in several layers. It is a major musical departure from the rest of the album but a common thread is the standard of playing, the piece treated with the same composure as the lyrical, melodic lines featuring elsewhere. From its virtuosic cadenza to its angular solo lines, musical themes begin to emerge from the textures. There’s an intriguing juxtaposition early on, the soloist’s melodies met with fire and brimstone from the accompaniment. The second movement takes a languid turn yet the music continues to engage, a variety of musical colours brought to the fore. The accompaniment gives way to pre-recorded, multi-layered tenor horn lines which bring an ethereal quality to this mesmerising piece, the soloist weaving his way in and out of the ‘electronic’ sounds before ascending to stratospheric corners of the horn’s register. A spiralling groove in the band is picked up by the soloist, who demonstrates a final, dramatic flourish.

Jasper Dommett’s piece is a bold, major work for tenor horn, fresh in its musical language and compelling in its execution.

Any successful album requires a melting pot of fine ingredients. In Ross Dunne is a performer of a very high calibre but he is matched at every second of this recording by the band of which he is a proud member, Tredegar Town. Led by Ian Porthouse, the outstanding Welsh outfit is sympathetic to the soloist throughout, with Ross and Tredegar enjoying an engaging musical dialogue. It is enhanced by striking artwork and comprehensive sleeve notes.

The result is a thrilling, multi-layered debut release which straddles the balance between familiar and the future. At the centre of it all is a soloist of considerable technique – and outstanding musical artistry.

Mark Good

 

Programme: 4

Performance: 5

Overall Presentation: 5

Recording Quality: 5