Bold as Brass

A very exciting New Series of Evening Chamber Music Concerts at the Royal Opera, House of Musical Arts opened on Monday with a Quartet of a very unusual nature. “Bold as Brass” featured the Mascoulisse Trombone Quartet, visiting from Italy in a free, one-hour programme in ROHM’s newest performance venue, the 500-seater, House of Musical Arts. The four young musicians graduated from the Conservatories of Brescia and Bergamo in Italy, and perform arrangements of music from Mozart to Minimalism.

House lights remained up full and without request to turn mobile phones off, the four black-clad gentlemen took their seats, unannounced. They launched into the Overture from Mozart’s, ‘Magic Flute’ with perfect synchronisation in the smooth, chorale-like opening. Then the famous tricky, ‘moto perpetuo’ passage was executed with amazingly few fluffs despite the tuning and timing challenges. Their excellent ensemble playing was immediately apparent with some gorgeous crescendo swells, false endings to catch the audience out and difficult syncopated sections.
The second trombone player, Emanuele Quaranta, stepped forward to greet the audience and introduce the pieces. Next up was Donizetti’s Overture from ‘Don Pasquale’ with a lovely solo from Emanuele himself followed by Alberto Pedretti on tenor trombones, with lyrical themes from the opera. Alto player, Stefano Belotti, played an arresting quirky theme backed by the others. The four demonstrated wide dynamic ranges and moods, but trombone ensembles are necessarily comic by their very nature. The audience was transfixed by the theatrical novelty and delightful interaction between the four voices — including an impressive chromatic bass line from Davide Biglieni.
Muscat’s beloved ‘L’Italiana in Algeri’ Overture by opera buffa composer, Rossini provided some finely-tuned quartet playing, with Emanuele taking the familiar theme. Davide had some fast runs on his bass trombone which were fascinating to watch and hear, while Stefano played a lovely chromatic tune leading up to a splendid crescendo ending.
Chairs were removed and the four returned to play Aurelio Canonici’s soundtrack to ‘Medieval Loop’. It had some very foxy rhythms in an uneven 7/8 time-signature, but the quartet synchronised brilliantly.
Christian Lindberg was described as a ‘crazy guy’ who composed, ‘Doctor Decker’s Daydreams’, a Swedish dentist’s nightmare in a very funny tone-poem. Composed for the Mascoulisse, it was tonal, slightly military in style with some flashy technical playing from Emanuele and Stefano. Repeating motives built up like a bizarre train ride, ending with a frightening dentist drill!
In a complete change of mood the Gershwin Medley, arranged by Alberto Pedretti, worked perfectly as a Trombone Quartet. He performed the velvet theme to, ‘The Man I Love’ over lush close harmony, with an unusually faster middle eight. It plunged into the fast, jazzy, ‘I got Rhythm’ which melted into a sleazy interpretation of, ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’. ‘I got Plenty of Nothin’ included an incredible bass trombone accompaniment, sliding into the much-loved, ‘Summertime’ melody from Stefano. Not done with Gershwin, he continued into ‘S Wonderful’, rich in close harmony, finishing with all the colours desired in the iconic chromatic theme from, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ as the perfect outro.
‘Bossa Brevis’ was composed especially for them for a movie by Andrea Rosa, though it was not so short! It was a brilliant, lively piece based on a syncopated monody, juxtaposed with tight harmonies and off-beat chords.
A Morricone Medley opened with the tremolo, ‘Rawhide’ TV theme using double-tongued effects and dramatically choreographed, giving an opportunity for each to solo in turn as they moved forward. They demonstrated their versatility in its syncopated theme with witty pauses, breaking up the otherwise lyrical playing.
Finally a tour de force in Monti’s ‘Csàrdàs’, with Alberto playing a lavish solo over silky chords and glissandos, contrasting with his exceptional virtuoso technique. They were incredible to play for an hour, non-stop, but they kept some energy for a rousing encore in Monty Alexander’s ‘007 Theme from James Bond’; a brilliant conclusion. Except it wasn’t, as they finished with a breathtaking arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’. Bravo!
The Absolute Music series will continue with Layali El Sharq on December 2, (Eastern Nights) with the Yousef El Luwahi Ensemble. While the organisers have housekeeping issues to resolve, all are welcome to arrive before 7pm without prior reservation.