Friday, June 17, 2011

Record review: Matthew K. Brown - "How Beautiful: The Music of Barbara York."

This is Matthew K. Brown's latest release How Beautiful: The Music of Barbara York. Barbara York's work is a great mixture of classical structure with contemporary style. The bottom line is that this is a fantastic recording by an excellent Tubist. 

Matthew K. Brown - Tuba
Maria Thompson Corley- Piano
Jason Ham - Euphonium

Track list:

Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra: "Wars and Rumors of War"
1. I - Allegro Marcato
2. II - Tranquillo
3. III - Allegro Furioso

4. Arioso Gloria

Sonata for Tuba and Piano: "Shamantic Journey"
5. I - The Guide Calls
6. II - Tumultuous Journey
7. III - The Other Shore

8. How Beautiful - Written in Memory of Eli Reuben Brown

Suite for Euphonium, Tuba and Piano: "Dancing With Myself"
(Featuring Jason Ham on Euphonium)
9. I - Bohemian Evening
10. II - Tango
11. III - The Night Goes On
12. IV - Polka
13. V - Past Midnight

My absolute favorite work on the album is the opening piece Wars and Rumors of War. Barbara York says this about her work in the liner notes, "...this is not intended to be a political statement about war, but is rather intended to be a philosophical and even rather intimate examination of the personal effect that a war has on those who are in it." It is my opinion that Barbara has done an excellent job of communicating this through song. In the first movement, there is a definite call back to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" that can be felt and heard in the opening of the first movement. 
The second movement is fluid and lyrical. Matthew K. Brown does an excellent job of pulling emotion out of every musical line with the perfect amount of vibrato for each passage, making the listener truly feel the longing with each phrase.
The third movement, "Allegro Furioso" is tense and erratic in a very good way. Barbara York says this about the third movement,  "In the third movement, we are thrust into the actuality of war. The “alarm bells” are going off and there is a sense of urgency and danger, where nothing is safe and every nerve ending must stay alert to the driving force of the situation around us." This is executed marvelously using both rhythm and dissonance to make the listener feel on edge. 
The best part about the third movement comes at 1:30. There is a distinctive jazz feel to this section. Barbara York says of this section "There is a pause in the battle, where our protagonist has the opportunity to look around and see the carnage and the waste around him. This is not the glory that he envisioned, not what he thought it would be like, nor what he was told. It is real, and it creates a sick and empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. Before he has time to deal with this or to resolve it, the alarm bells are going off again and he is back in the battle, fighting for his own survival. " 
Again, Matthew does an excellent job shifting gears musically and showing great versatility. 

According to the liner notes: "“Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax” (“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace”) was the text used as the inspiration for this piece." This piece works great on this album because it is a beautiful showcase of Matthew K. Brown's lyrical playing ability and also is a nice "palate cleanser" to follow all the excitement of the previous concerto. 

This piece was written for  John Griffiths, who passed away while Barbara York was composing this piece in 2007.  It is a great showcase for the upper register of the Tuba and Matthew K. Brown doesn't disappoint. From the liner notes, "Some may find the last section of the 3rd movement to be placed a little high in the tuba range. To be honest, that is still somewhat of a compromise in its homage to John Griffiths. John would have probably taken the melody in its original key and simply played it an octave higher. However, for the sake of better writing and in deference to the rest of us poor mortals who are not so daring and such workers of miracles, I have at least pushed the envelope within reasonable limits." 

This is another beautiful lyrical piece. The first time I listened to this, I sat down with the liner notes, listened intently to Matthew's phrasing (yes, I do that) and was nearly brought to tears. From the liner notes, "How Beautiful was written at the request of Matt and Kristy Brown in memory of their son, Eli Reuben Brown, who passed away on May 19, 2008. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings of peace; who publishes good tidings of good, and who declares salvation; who says to Zion, Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)  This was the text used here." Honestly, it wasn't the beauty of Matthew's playing (although it was excellent) but it was a mixture of the origin of this work mixed with the music and my own internal emotions when putting myself in Matthew's shoes and thinking of my own daughter. I don't want to make anyone sad, this is just my own personal experience, and as a result, this piece will always have a special place in my heart.

This is my second favorite work on the album, and in my opinion the most contemporary work on the album. Matthew plays on this recording with the amazing Jason Ham. What truly makes this piece great is the mixture of meters that change from movement to movement. The interplay between the Tuba and Euphonium is fantastic. Jason and Matthew do an excellent job during each of these dances not stepping on each others toes, so to speak. 

This is an excellent album. The music is refreshing and the playing is top notch. 
From left to right: Maria Thompson Corley, Jason Ham, Barbara York and Matthew K. Brown

How Beautiful liner notes
Buy Matthew K. Brown's recordings
Buy Barbara York's music (featured on this album)
Barbara York's Biography 

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