Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dominique-René de Lerma: Smashing More Stereotypes

Elgar's Trombone
Cala Records CACD77016

Chi-chi Nwanoku

Dominique-René de Lerma

Violists are not pleased to hear perfect pitch meaning when the edge of the barrel is cleared while discarding their instrument, and bassoonists object when their instrument is regarded as the orchestra's clown (yet they are surely amused by the solo that appears at the end of BBC's Keeping up appearances).  The orchestral world has its own stereotypic images: the second violinists with the sensitivity of a used car salesman, the haughty first oboist who claims ranking second only to the concertmaster, the machismo of the raucous trombonists, the harpist to whom no one spoke ... and yet I have noticed how many bassoonists I knew in my orchestral days who were Brooklyn Jews from Bensonhurst, who spoke Italian.  Yet Hale Smith was concerned when the harpists were male, which certainly had to be the sex of the trombonists!
But the patterns are now broken with the liberation of women.  Sue Addison appears as trombone soloist in the 2013 issue of Cala Reconds CADD77016, playing on the instrument Sir Edward Elgar failed to master in mid-life.  She located his trombone at the Museum of the Royal College of Music and secured permission to use it in the 2009 performance of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius with the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, finding how much more suitable this older instrument was in this work than those used today.  Then with some research she indentified compositions, not all originally for the trombone, most of which had been arranged around the end of the nineteenth century.  These then became the justification for this recording, which will certainly be of substantial interest (along with Ms Addison's important liner note!) to trombonists.  In an decision lacking any feminist fanfare, she gathered a sextet of professionals for the recording: Sally Goodworth  (piano), Frances Kelly (harp), Chi-chi Nwanoku (double bass), Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet), Judith Treggor (piccolo), and Emily White (trombone).
The composers represented include Sir Edward, of course: Salut d'amour, Nimrod (from the Enigma variations), Chanson de matin, Chanson de nuit, In moonlight (from In the South), Piano improvisation no. 4, Land of hope and glory (aka Pomp and circumstance), and an original work, Duet for trombone and double bass.  From Frank Bridge is Berceuse and Valse russe (from Nine miniatures).  Henry Purcell's Fairest isle (via Roger Quilter) joins Ivor Gurney's Sleep, Benjamin Britten's Ploughboy with The acrobat, a genuinely amusing work by J. A. Greenwood, Victorian bandmaster who lived to 1957, made abbreviated version of Elgar's symphonies, and seems to have written many novelties.  Vaughan Williams' Greensleves is ubiquitous on National Public Radio programs, hosted by innocents who have just discovered it.  Sir Arthur Sullivan has Poor wand'ring one waltzing off the stage of the musical theater (or theatre in this context), but the CD's real chortles are evoked with I am the ruler of the Queen's navy from H.M.S. Pinafore, surviving the absence of Gilbert's satire by the ensemble's delicious jollies.
Somewhere lost among my papers and within a stroke-fogged memory is a communication sent me years back from a Brit, reputed to be an authority on Sir Arthur.  He had no hesitation in identifying the composer's mother as at least of mixed ancestry, from the Caribbean.  He claimed that as Sullivan aged, this background became more pronounced.  The sources I have checked indicate that Mary Clementina (née Coghlan, 1811–1882), was indeed of mixed heritage, but it was Irish and Italian.  Was that speculation another voyage like J. A. Rogers took us on with Beethoven?

Dominique-René de Lerma

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