Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Aaron Tindall's Tuba Transformations

Serious classical music lovers know there's more to the tuba than "Tubby." Aaron Tindall's new recital disc just shows how much more -- and it may surprise more than a few classical cognoscenti.

Tindall performs works of four contemporary composers with contrasting styles, in settings ranging from full orchestral accompaniment to unaccompanied solo. Virtually the entire range of playing technique is heard, and some extended technique as well.

The opener, Gunther Schuller's 2008 concerto No. 2 for Contrabass Tuba and Symphony Orchestra is the most conservative work in the program, written in a loosely atonal style that reminded me of the early 1960s. The tuba's lyrical passages, especially those in the lower register, are well-crafted and engaging. Tindall's crystal-clear articulation shows amazing control, especially with multiphonics.

Karlheinz Stockhausen's 2006 Harmonien is part of an unfinished cycle of solo instrumental works (one for every hour of the day). Tindall performs this solo piece beautifully. He seems to effortlessly slip between extreme registers while maintaining a sense of unity and overall structure. Tindall makes every note relevant and meaningful.

The 2013 Concerto for Tuba and Winds Ensemble by Dana Wilson follows, lightening the mood somewhat. It's a more accessible work, and Tindall's rapid-fire double tonguing has to be heard to be believed.

Are You Experienced? by David Lang closes the program. It's the oldest of the four works (completed in 1989) but it's also the wildest. Composed for electric tuba, chamber orchestra, and narrator, the work plunges the audience into a disorienting world of semi-consciousness. No, really -- the narrator explains that we've just been hit on the head as the music starts. Tindall's performance, though incorporating feedback, guttural growls, and other extra-musical sounds is one I can only describe as musical. This isn't just noise -- there's a purpose to it all, and if you listen closely, Tindall will reveal it.

I'd recommend this release not only to anyone interested in contemporary music but to composers and arrangers. If you want to know what the tuba is truly capable of, this should be your reference recording.

Aaron Tindall, Tuba
Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra; Jeffery Meyer, conductor
Ithaca College Wind Ensemble; Stephen Peterson, conductor
Ithaca College Chamber Orchestra; Jeffery Meyer, conductor; Steven Stucky, narrator
Bridge Records 9471

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