Helios Brass

As the quintet Helios Brass played inside the church of St Martha-on-the-Hill, the last remnants of Storm Doris strode away from the Surrey Hills with a windy flourish.  

Contrasting with Doris’ uncouth, gusty blasts, the young players in Helios Brass shaped sweet, strong musical phrases.  Unlike players of string or wood instruments, the skill of a brass player lies in being able to control the shape of the sound with the mouth and breath. These players have that skill in abundance and held the full church spellbound with a varied programme.

The anonymous baroque Die Bankelsangerlieder opened the concert with good cheer.  The name means Songs of the Bench Singers: not an illuminating translation until you know that in medieval Europe, a troupe of singers might walk from town to town, setting up their bench in the market place with a display of pictures.  They would then sing a story, picking out the events by pointing with a stick to the pictures.

It was followed by Bozza’s imaginative and thought provoking Quintet Sonatine from mid-20th c France.  More please, Helios Brass, in future concerts!  Then the tempo became more reflective with an arrangement by Peter Maxwell Davis of Gesualdo’s 16th c motet, Peccantem me quotidie.  Rebecca Toal, who plays trumpet in the quintent, commented that a lot of choral renaissance music works well in transcriptions for brass because brass instruments sound close to the human voice. 

Two beautiful movements from Faure’s Requiem came next.  The Libera Me in particular was beautifully articulated: a crying out of the soul underpinned by the deep, sweet tones of the tuba. 

The concert finished with a deeply moving performance of five numbers from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, ending with “O Lawd, I’m on my way” – clever programming. 

But the audience wanted more and got it: “Just a closer walk”.  Based on a traditional gospel tune, its swinging rhythm of New Orleans put us in the mood for Mardi Gras next Tuesday.

The musical skill of Helios Brass and the evident rapport between the five members created a really an entrancing performance.  Our thanks to Helios Brass and to Margaret Roberts for arranging such a lovely, heart-warming concert on a wintry, windy day.

See Helios Brass Facebook page

Next concerts at St Martha's on 4 March:

  • 1 pm: The Soprano Cyclist - English song
  • 3 pm: Brahms Clarinet Quintet - Oxus with Lukasz Jakimow

See the feature article here

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