Andrew Fawbert and Benjamin Davey, Tindall Recital Series, Sherborne

BRASS players are often portrayed – with some justification – as the jokers in the orchestral pack. If there is mischief to be done or pranks to be played, chances are it’s the brass players who are at the back of it.

There are countless gags about brass players – mostly along the lines of “Why do people play trombone? Because they can’t move their fingers and read music at the same time.”

Anyone who has heard or watched Andrew Fawbert will recognise that there is a smidgin of truth in the picture of the joker – he has an impish grin and an infectious sense of humour.

But he is also a charismatic musician who had the packed audience in Sherborne School’s Tindall Hall in the palm of his hand, at times holding their collective breath at his virtuosity and dexterity.

His CV ranges from playing in brass bands as a teenager to years as an in-demand freelance trombone and euphonium player, recording soundtracks for films, including Tom and Jerry, The Lord of the Rings and Gladiator, and playing for artists such as The Who, Barbra Streisand, Pink Floyd and Snow Patrol, and with the BBC Radio Orchestra, BBC Big Band, the Wallace Collection and the Michael Nyman Band.

Dorset-basesd Fawbert, who was focused on several times by a cameraman at the BBC Last Night of the Proms broadcast, displays virtuosity in everything from jazz to classical to swing to electronica, combined with great communication skills.

He took the audience on a musical journey through his life, from a northern bandstand to concert hall stages and 12 years as head of brass at Sherborne School, with light-hearted anecdotes and expert information about the music and the composers.

The Tindall Series Visiting Artists’ recital, in which the guest was brilliantly accompanied by Benjamin Davey, head of keyboards at Sherborne School, began with Edward Sutton’s The Cavalier, which Fawbert recalled  playing as a 14 year old on the euphonium on the bandstand at Chesterfield.

Fawbert’s future could have been so different – he was expected to go to work at the nearby Grimethorpe Colliery, but instead, thanks to a new music teacher, he went to music school in Birmingham! It changed his life, he recalled, as he introduced the delightful Romanza from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Tuba Concerto.

For centuries brass instruments were mainly confined to sacred music (think of the exciting and emotional impact of the brass in Monteverdi’s Vespers) and it was not until the 19th century that the trombone became mainstream.

While the Romanza showed the lyrical capacity of the trombone, the instrument’s versatility was displayed in Jules Semler-Collery’s Barcarolle et Chanson Bachique, with its contrasting Debussian influences, high spirits and melancholy.

The first half ended with the delightful Euphonium Concerto by Joseph Horovitz (the 20th century English composer, not the American musicologist), a work which dshows clearly why audiences love brass. It can be inspiring, swaggering, energetic, amusing and even romantic – but it also produces sounds that are interesting, peculiar, sometimes just rude … and make you smile.

That versatility was fully explored in the second half, with James Curnow’s Rhapsody for Euphonium, Ferdinand David’s Trombone Concertino, and, the (for me) two stand-out works, the vivacious Suite for Trombone by the American jazz musician, composer and band-leader Jiggs Wigham, played on a valve trombone, and Elliott Park’s Sonambulum (Inspiration) composed for Andrew Fawbert and receiving its first performance at the Tindall recital.

As a composer, Park, who is just 25 and a music and music technology teacher at Sherborne School, specialises in acoustic and electroacoustic work. Sonambulum, he says, is “the first in a projected cycle of pieces for solo bass trombone and electronics.”

It creates a soundscape that is haunting, dreamlike, with passages that are barely breathing and others that are almost comical.

The encore, Makin’ Whoopee, brought us back to earth, and sent us off into the rain with a smile on our faces.


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