MyShrewsReviews: Onyx Brass at Shrewsbury URC
14 Nov 2023

Shrewsbury’s beautiful United Reformed Church was the venue for the most recent concert promoted by Shropshire Music Trust - Andrew Petch reviews Onyx Brass Quintet. The concert was held in memory of the trust's former chairman David Waterhouse who died recently. 

The Onyx Brass Quintet delighted the Shrewsbury audience with a skillfully curated programme of music, drawn from an an amazing range of sources in this, the 30th anniversary of their foundation.

Before the first note was heard, John Moore gave a heartfelt tribute to David Waterhouse, former Chairman of Shropshire Music Trust, who died recently. John (himself an accomplished pianist and conductor) has worked tirelessly and successfully with David in the promotion of live music in Shropshire. He gave us a portrait of a man of enormous energy and learning.

Two members of the quintet - trombone player Amos Miller and tuba player David Gordon Shute - are founder members of the group. They were joined by trumpet players Niall Keatley and Alan Thomas and Andrew Sutton on horn. Amos and David each gave valuable, good humoured introductions to most of the pieces.

Each half of the concert included a French work - by Rameau in the first half and Couperin in the second. The first half also displayed the arranging skills of David Gordon-Shute who prepared two pieces by JS Bach, the Fugue in C Major and an Advent Chorale Prelude. If proof be needed, these arrangements showed exactly why JSB is regarded as the greatest composer of western classical music.

The group’s performances were exemplary; their use of dynamics, impeccable choice of tempi, their beautiful sometimes silky sound were a joy. They truly played as one! Malcolm Arnold’s quintet for brass completed the first half of the programme and was notable for being the only work originally composed for brass quintet. Its second movement, a chaconne, had a dark, melancholy feeling whereas the outer movements were virtuosic and lively and were given exactly the treatment they needed.

John Maynard’s Fanfare was a rousing opener to the second half. Tim Jackson provided a Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Tim clearly knew the famous RVW work - we forgave him when we discovered he had written this as a precocious 14-year-old whilst riding on a bus! It had moments of real beauty and originality.

Tim also made a crazy contribution in the form of a group of poems which gave the players a chance to put down their instruments and show their talents as deliverers of verse. The first was “Me”- how many ways could we think of to deliver that single syllable in as musical a way as these men did? One of the other poems shed not only instruments but words as well. The miming of the search for a Zen master up a hill but failing to find him had the audience laughing out loud.

The finale was two Gershwin numbers, The Man I Love and They Can't Take That Away From Me. Each was a superb arrangement, proving that the work of the greatest composers can, if treated with respect, be recreated with wonderful results. Some of the growling moments of the trumpets were reminiscent of the early Ellington bands!

This was a truly superb concert; it surely came as close to perfection as any music lover could hope for. Coming so soon after the deaths of two people (David and also Jenny Petch) who had, in their different ways, contributed much to the life and work of the Music Trust it was a salutary reminder of the life-affirming power that is music.