By Betsy Everett
As the audience packed the pews of St Oswald’s Church, Askrigg, for the opening concert of the 2019 Swaledale Festival, they could hardly have guessed at the treat in store.
They certainly needed something to lift their spirits on a wet Saturday afternoon in Wensleydale, and the bright and talented brass quintet, CincoBrass, from London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, provided it in an hour of scintillating, dramatic and haunting music spanning more than three centuries.
The tightly-packed programme was beautifully paced and well-chosen. From the 17th century Scarlatti’s Baroque Sonata, arranged for brass by Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013), to the bittersweet Ashokan Farewell composed by American folk musician Jay Ungar in 1982, the young players gave confident and sensitive interpretations which delighted the audience.
Each of the five parts of Joseph Horovitz’s Music Hall Suite (1964) was a tiny gem. Being unfamiliar with the piece – and, to be honest, much of the rest of the concert – I researched and replayed it courtesy of You Tube at home, to discover the themes of the different parts, none more than three minutes in length – one only 83 seconds – and test the mental pictures the live performance had conjured, against the reality of the titles: Soubrette Song, Trick Cyclists, Adagio-Team, Soft Shoe Shuffle and Les Girls. Hmm. . . some easier to visualise than others, but as a whole, nine minutes of sheer pleasure.
With the 19th century Russian composer Victor Ewald’s Quintet No 3 – as well as being one of the first composers ever to write for the brass quintet, Ewald was a professor of civil engineering at St Petersburg with a special knowledge of brick and cement manufacturing (who’d have guessed?) – it was as varied a programme of music as you could possibly wish for in one hour, delivered with real enthusiasm and confidence by these five young students: Tom Thornton and Patrick Wilson on trumpet, Pol Coll Tulloch on French horn, James Thomas on trombone, and Wensleydale’s very own Simon Chorley of Thorton Rust on bass trombone.
With his distinctive shock of curly red hair and easy manner, he was, inevitably, the focus of attention and affection of the audience, many of whom remembered him as a tiny boy at Askrigg primary school where the quintet had performed the day before as part of the festival’s education outreach programme. Others, including joint concert sponsor (with wife, Ann) Gerald Hodgson would know him as a member of the Hawes Silver Band, to whom Simon dedicated the final piece.
This was, for me, the highlight of an all-too-short concert: the Ashokan Farewell, a poignant melody composed in 1982, and chosen as the theme tune to Ken Burns’s 1990 American mini-series, The Civil War, thus gaining international acclaim over the past 30 years and performed countless times. To hear it rendered by a brass quintet was a new experience altogether. It was chosen to end the concert, but didn’t quite succeed: the audience would not let them go, and they returned to the stage for a cheeky encore, a brief burst of the theme music from Wensleydale’s own Wallace and Gromit. A fitting tribute to Simon’s hallowed home turf.