Peter Whish-Wilson (tuba) and friends
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
David Stanhope (conductor)
ABC Classics 476 525-1
reviewed by Neville Cohn
For too many who ought to know better, the tuba is inextricably – and exclusively – linked with the celebrated Hoffnung concerts as well as innumerable Hollywood cartoons which poke (mostly gentle) fun at tubas as well as those playing them.
This splendid compact disc compilation should put the record straight; the tuba is as challenging to master as any other brass instrument – and when it is in the hands of a master – as is very much the case here – the results are extraordinarily satisfying.
Listening to Whish-Wilson calls Larry Adler to mind. He, too, did pioneer work on an instrument that few thought of in really serious terms. Listen to the tuba line in Vaughan Williams’ concerto. Whether in the march-like rhythms of the opening, revealing the lyrical essence of the slow movement or demonstrating extraordinary control of the instrument in quicksilver-rapid flourishes in the finale, Whish-Wilson is clearly master of the moment. Certainly, the buoyant, aerial quality that informs the solo line in the finale would surely persuade even the most anti-tuba types that there is far more to the instrument than the gag writers on comic shows would have us believe.
There’s more engaging listening in William Lovelock’s Concerto for Bass Tuba. Whish-Wilson’s artistry is particularly evident in the opening as he gives point and meaning to the whimsical, sunny essence of the writing, prattling away in delightful dialogue with the accompanying orchestra directed, as throughout, by a consistently accommodating Stanhope. And if the slower central section of the concerto is something of a dull patch, there’s seemingly effortless, sure-footed agility in the lively finale.
A compilation such as this, travelling as it does along musical byways seldom trodden by most listeners, would surely be a journey of discovery for many – and of a most charming kind to boot.
How many, for instance, would be familiar with Alec Wilder’s Tuba Suite No 1, subtitled Effie the Elephant? Originally conceived for tuba and piano, here it can be heard in a version for tuba, strings and harp arranged by Irving Rosenthal, one of music’s more versatile figures. Trained as a French horn player, he not only worked in symphony orchestras but also as a core member of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Late in life, he came to Adelaide to
teach and, hearing Whish-Wilson playing the suite in its original state ie with piano, proposed the arrangement here recorded. This is the first time it has been available in this version on CD.
I particularly liked the second of the suite of six pieces: Effie Falls in Love, memorable for the tuba’s velvety mellow tone.
It is the finale of Michael Kenny’s Concerto for Tuba that lingers in the memory, not least for its infectiously jovial interior mood. And the nocturne-like third movement of Swedish composer Christer Danielsson’s Concertante Suite for tuba and four horns has a most beguiling, hushed quality.
Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn