Reviews are coming in for the new CD, and here you can read what the critics say about this disc, which seems to have been met with universal approval since its release on June 1st.
Writing in the 25th June edition of the British Bandsman, Paul Hindmarsh writes:
The first thing that strikes you before listening to a note of Steven Mead's latest solo release is the quirky booklet design - a mask, bedecked with colourful feathers out of which gleam a pair of sparkling eyes. The ‘dancing' feathers and mask also provide a ‘leitmotif ' within the elegantly produced booklet itself: no magnifying glass required here, but good honest 10-point print, well spaced!
A promising start then, enticing the listener in. What of the music? On first hearing there is much to delight the ear. Steven Mead is a great technician. The apparent ease with which he traverses the full range of his euphonium, whether he is embellishing a soaring cantilena, as in the opening of Gypsy Airs (Saraste, arr. Snell) or letting his fingers fly at terrifying speed and in perfect synchronisation with his double tonguing, is jaw-dropping at times.
Over the years, Steven's world-wide advocacy for his instrument has brought him into contact with a diverse range of composers and arrangers. The roll call of his commissions and first performances is staggering. On this new album, we hear two recent major offerings. American composer Ethan Williams composed Summit for a group of star euphoniumists to play at the 2010 International Tuba Euphonium Conference. From it has emerged Three Expeditions, in essence a sonata demonstrating the full range of the Mead style, from abstract, polytonal Strange Departures, through Moriah - a plaintive and serene melodically-based effusion (and one of the highlights of the disc for sheer lyrical control) - and finally Olympus, which, as the composer puts it, ‘pits the player against seemingly insurmountable odds'. Steven comes through unscathed!
The centre-piece of the disc is a concise Concertino by Marco Pütz, while the title track is a curious re-working of a hypnotic Fandango in chaconne form attributed to the 18th century Spaniard Antonio Soler. The heady virtuosity of Simone Mantia's classic Variations on Auld Lang Syne is effortlessly rendered. A selection of Mead encores adds to the entertainment, including The Girl with the Flaxen Hair (Debussy, arr. Snell), Oblivion (Piazolla, arr. Andersen) and an affecting slice of Yorkshire plain speaking (in musical terms), Yorkshire Ballad (James Barnes).
While a little more distance in the recorded sound would have increased the enchantment and atmosphere of the music, as an exhibition of quality euphonium technique, Fandango is hard to beat
In the BrassBand World Magazine (June 2011), the experienced critic Alan Jenkins writes:
This is a wonderful programme of music for euphonium and piano worthy of any concert stage in the world. It is so easy to throw together a collection of contrasting pieces and call it a programme. To do the job properly requires substantial thought and perhaps a prayer to the Almighty for the gift of a little inspiration to get the balance of music and style right. This programme suggests the inspiration was forthcoming for it truly hits the bull's-eye.
More than that, the 70 minute programme reveals the true art of music where two or more musicians, listen, feel and perform as one. The technical prowess and musical sensitivity displayed in such rich abundance by both performers leaves nothing to be desired.
The programme is a satisfying mixture of original music for the euphonium and arrangements from the classical masters. The original music ranges from the instrument's early days with Simone Mantia's Variations on Auld Lang Syne to challenging music of the 21st Century. There are popular showpieces - the CD opens with Sarasate's Gypsy Airs, arranged by Howard Snell, which always signals a good beginning for any disc - mingling with serious works such as the Concertino for Euphonium and Piano by Marco Pütz, with the enlightened, eclectic programme posing so many different challenges and all met with innate skill and musical authority by the enterprising duo.
The recording quality is of a high standard throughout."
Other comments received include:
Jonny Sproule: Congratulations Steve again on a truly wonderful recording. Thanks
Wolfgang Weichselbaumer : Congratulations! A really wonderful CD. Just listening to Party Piece. So much detail, so much music, all very natural, joy and melancholy at the same time. The whole CD sounds for me like you really have fun playing it. No need to impress anybody (no Ego saying "Look, what I can do"). And not need to make compromises to make a passage work. I'm usually not so much in the virtuoso stuff, because it often seem a little bit empty, just a means to show technical abilities. But on Fandango you can transport musical ideas and emotions even on the most difficult passages. Only a real master and musician can this. Bravo, Maestro :)
Thanks to everyone for their support and comments. It means so much to me.
Last wednesday the Radio 2 Listen to the Band Programme, with the inimitable compere Frank Renton, had a 30 minute 'Soloist Spotlight' programme in which Frank had a chat with me about my work and travelling and played a track (Dance of the Goblins) from the CD. Click HERE to listen to the programme on the BBC iPlayer.