|1||September Fantasy||Eric Ball|
|3||Chiquita Dances||Bramwell Tovey|
|5||Sunday in the Park||Philip Sparke|
|6-8||Concerto for E flat Horn and Brass Band|
|9||Ave Maria||S Bach/Gounod arr. Andrew Baker|
|Custom Image URL||N/A|
It's 17 years since Sheona White delighted us with her debut CD The Voice of the Tenor Horn, but the wait has been well worth it. From the ringing top note with which Eric Ball's September Fantasy begins to the reflective ending of the bonus track - Ave Maria (Bach - Gounod - Baker), recorded live at Brass in Concert in November, her playing is a complete joy. I have always admired Sheona's generous, totally committed artistry. Her instinct for shaping a lyrical line and squeezing out every drop of expression from a melody is second to none in the brass band world.
Whenever Eric Ball uses the word September or Evening in a title, we can expect autumnal colours and nostalgic moods. In September Fantasy (1997), one fo his last works, the backward glance is enriched with Indian summer warmth and moments of clear sky virtuosity - always tastefully done. Sheona captures the essence of the piece and what comes over most strongly here and throughout the album is the gorgeous tone - rich as double cream, smooth as silk - and the care and instinctive nuance with which she delivers each phrase.
It's evident how much the music means to her, no more so than in the heart-on-sleeve delivery of Philip Sparke's Aria (reissued from Brighouse's Vita Destructa release). An achingly expressive climax from soloist and the fine band tugs at the heart strings. The incisive start of Bramwell Tovey's Chiquita Dances breaks the dream. If you've seen the 1951 Ealing comedy The Lavender Hill Mob, you'll perhaps recall that near the beginning a young Audrey Hepburn steals the show with her cameo appearance as Chiquita. Bramwell Tovey's delightful set of variations imagines her 'back story'. She's clearly quite a character - seductive, sensitive, manipulative, flirtatious and towards the end we hear she's a pretty nifty dancer. Sheona and Ruth Webb bring her to life in terrific style.
Sheona's story telling in John Golland's Ballade has a vocal quality about it - like a rich operatic contralto. In Sunday in the Park, the operatic quality relaxes into something more fluid. We read in her programme notes how much the songs and the voice of Karen Carpenter mean to Sheona - and we can hear it in the sultry tone, the light vibrato opening out into a rich low register and the gently inflected phrases provided by Philip Sparke in this tribute piece, commissioned by Sheona's husband Matt Wade (Brighouse and Rastrick's BB flat bass) as a birthday present in 2014.
By far the longest work on the album is the Concerto that Derek Bourgeois commissioned himself to write for Sheona after hearing her work on the YBS Band's CD devoted to his music. Derek's productivity in his last years was astonishing. The energy, tension and dark, sardonic humour of pieces like Blitz and the Concertos for Band is largely absent from his later band works. Instead we experience a more genial, but no less skillful capacity for parody, nostalgia and moments of laugh-out-loud humour. The Concerto he composed for Sheona feels more like a series of extended concert pieces than a concerto perhaps, but as a vehicle to show the mature artistry and fine-tuned technique of its intended soloist, it really hits the spot, especially in the richly romantic slow movement with which it begins. Sheona negotiates some wild and wacky writing with the skill of a trapeze artist - brilliant. The production values invested in Timeless - production, sound, design and documentation - are as strong as the performances.
"Where words fail, music speaks" - Hans Christian Andersen. This very statement could not have rung more true in describing the feeling that instantly embraced me on first hearing Timeless - Sheona White's new and most heart-stirring solo CD. It is a challenge to even attempt to put into words such unequivocal beauty, breathtaking emotion and one person's intimate journey, so devotedly portrayed through musical expression.
The recording begins with an awe-inspiring performance of Eric Ball's, Schumann-like September Fantasy. This performance radiates total wonderment and an intensely honest portrayal of how this instrument can literally sing with such an array of colour and allure. It is sheer sublimity throughout and pays real tribute to the magnificent writing of such a prestigious and much-loved composer.
An atmospheric and spine-tingling delivery of Philip Sparke's hauntingly beautiful Aria, written especially for the soloist, follows. The harmonies within tug at the heartstrings, whilst Sheona soothes the listener with that unique sound that soars so exquisitely above the richness of the ensemble. Before long, one is instantly overwhelmed with a shattering musical climax and slowly brought back down to the safety of the pastures below. Much thanks to the help of the wonderfully crafted composing skills of Sparke (no doubt inspired by Ralph Vaughan Williams).
We are then taken to the bygone era of Ealing Studios in the form of Chiquita. This film inspired musical heavyweight, Bramwell Tovey, to write Chiquita Dances - a wonderfully crafted and blisteringly flirtatious set of dance variations, which explores the more sensitive and characterful side of the soloist. Sheona's playing is so full of finesse and seductive beguile throughout, yet the total ease in which she delivers these variations just makes one smile in complete astonishment. These are just a few of many delights and displays on a recording by one of the true great soloists. Sheona is not just a great in the wonderful world of brass bands, but one who stands tall amongst the Perlmans, Vengerovs and Caballes of this world.
The du Pre of the tenor horn, Sheona White expels endless emotion and musical warmth throughout this self-proclaimed journey and memories from the past 25 years, which have gone on to inspire and shape one of our most cherished performers of recent times. The result is a triumph of such colossal proportion.