review of Prime Brass in Ely Cathedral Sept09

Ely Cathedral was the ideal venue for a concert presented by one of the finest brass ensembles country-wide. Prime Brass is no mere collection of skilled performers: it is an exceptional ensemble of experienced and musically aware virtuosos who bring extra sparkle, sumptuousness and refinement to works that explore the capabilities of their instruments to the full. The sonorous warmth and rallying calls of the horns, the crisp attack and vibrant agility of the trumpet, the melodious, rhythmic backbone of the trombones and the rich depth of the tubas were explored in a continuous variety of textures and styles. Jonathan Lilley played the organ with equal proficiency, demonstrating his intimate understanding and command of the Cathedrals’ splendid organ. Also adding to the excitement and rhythmic drive of the evening were the group of first class percussion players. This highly professional performance was conducted by Paul Trepte, Director of Music at the Cathedral and his reputation for producing music of the highest standard made it certain that this concert would be first rate.    

The concert opened with Oliver Cromwell’s March, written by the local composer Dr Arthur Wills OBE, who was present at the concert.  This work proved to be an ideal composition for the setting. Dr Wills’ skilled writing fired the imagination and it was easy to identify with the threat of the developing might of Oliver Cromwell as he ‘marched’ into Ely to victory. Commissioned by a College in Huntingdonshire, the work developed powerfully with recurring marching trombones, precisely clipped melodic progressions and contrasting tranquil beauty from the organ. The superb skill of the performers set the work ablaze and it advanced in a continuously developing magnetic drive towards a grand finale of patriotic fervour fitting for any final night at the Proms. It is astonishing to learn that this work has not been taken up regularly by other colleges and institutions and that this was the first time the composer had actually heard this composition performed.   

Pictures at an Exhibition by Modeste Mussorgsky is a frequently arranged and performed composition. However, I have never heard such an inspired arrangement and performance of this work before. There was nothing mundane about the vibrant energy and dazzling colour of this work and these performers.  The promenade themes, readily recognizable but intriguingly varied, framed episodes of amazingly divergent character. From the mischievous evil of The Gnome, the tinkling flow of sparkling water of the Tuilerie Gardens and the fluttering pecking of the Chicks in their shells, nothing was left unexplored.

The evening was enhanced further with fine performances of Toccata and Fugue in D minor by J. S. Bach, Chaconne and Fugue Trilogy with Choral by Siegfried Karg-Elert and Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile by Eugene Bozza.

Prime Brass will feature in the Cathedral’s Christmas Concert on 22nd December 2009. If this concert is an indication of the standard of music – attendance is a must!


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