SEPTURA brass ensemble

Wednesday 13 December 2023 7:30pm

Schütz                 Das Wort ward Fleisch
J S Bach              Christmas Suite
Praetorius         Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
Brahms              Chorale Prelude: Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
Humperdinck   Overture to Hansel and Gretel
Tchaikovsky      Nutcracker Suite

Septura made a big impact when they first appeared at Ilkley in 2018 with a wide ranging programme of brass arrangements of French and English music from Josquin to Vaughan Williams. This seven-strong group of the most-renowned brass players in the UK is now firmly established as one of the best in the world, bringing the simple message that ‘music sounds better on brass’!

We welcome them back with a seasonal programme which combines some of the favourite choral treats from the Christmas repertoire of the German baroque with that perennial seasonal favourite, the suite from The Nutcracker – a second dose of Tchaikovsky this season!

REVIEW BY Geoffrey Mogridge

Last Wednesday evening’s eagerly awaited return visit from Septura showcased festive Christmas music ingeniously arranged for brass septet.

The evening opened in devotional vein with Das Wort ward Fleisch, composed by Heinrich Schütz and published in 1648.This spectacular setting of the St John Gospel 1:14, The Word Was Made Flesh, reflected the declamatory style of these famous lines.

The Christmas Suite of J.S Bach combined the 1st movement of Christmas Cantata Ich freue mich in dir with two chorales from the Christmas Oratorio. 300 years separated settings, respectively by Michael Praetorius and Johannes Brahms, of the 15th century German Marian Chorale Prelude Es ist ein Ros’entsprungen.

And so to the land of fairy tales. The Overture to Hansel and Gretel, Englebert Humperdinck’s delightful opera is for ever linked to the festive season. In this gleaming arrangement, the serene Children’s Evening Prayer swelled in the resonance of King’s Hall like some resplendent Wagnerian brass chorale.

A 45-minute suite from Tchaikovsky’s effervescent orchestral score for The Nutcracker ballet followed the interval. A generous serving from Act 1, less frequently performed in the concert hall than the Act 2 divertissements, included a Berceuse – with added piccolo toy trumpet and ratchet. The Nutcracker Prince’s battle with the Mouse King and a magical Transformation Scene carried an enthralled King’s Hall audience to the Kingdom of Sweets in Act 2.

An exuberant Spanish dance, the exotic Arabian dance, a galloping Russian Trepak, the dance of the Merlitons and the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy all displayed the incandescent brilliance, humour, and rich tonal variety of these settings for brass. They were played with astonishing virtuosity by trumpeters James Fountain, Simon Cox and Alan Thomas; trombonists Matthew Gee, Peter Moore, Josh Cirtina, and tuba player Sasha Koushk-Jalai. Chris Skidmore, your usual erudite reviewer, delivered the narration from E.T.A Hoffman’s original tale with aplomb. Truly an enchanting evening.