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New Baritone Horn CD: Gilles Rocha - Uther Pendragon

Rating: 14 votes, 3.29 average.
Gilles Rocha CD, Uther PendragonI had a rare treat this week: hearing the second of two baritone horn CDs in the space of a year! Just a few years ago that would have been hard to imagine. We were seeing many great euphonium CDs on the market, but baritone horn did not have a presence in the marketplace. Happily, it looks like that is changing. Less than a year ago I picked up a copy of "Baritones to the Fore," featuring baritone artists Robert Richardson, Diana Herak, Helen Tyler, and Katrina Marzella. That was the first CD I was aware of that featured baritones. Now I have a second baritone CD, this one featuring a single artist. The world is changing!

This CD is by a Swiss baritone player named Gilles Rocha and features a nice balance of transcriptions and original pieces. Gilles shows us some of the advanced possibilities of the baritone horn as a solo instrument. The pieces on the album are widely varied and offer impressively-handled challenges to the soloist. According to the liner notes, most of the pieces were written for local or national championships:

1) Dinicu / Barclay - Hora Staccato

2) Moren, Bertrand - Eastern Dances

3) Rocha, Gilles - Song for My Love

4) Debans, Eddy - Zingaresca

5) Bach / Reift - Air from Suite No. 3

6) Hohne, Carl - Slavonic Fantasy

7) Rocha, Gilles - Fiesta Mexicana

8) Sarasate / Dok****ser - Gypsy Airs

9) Newton, Rodney - Baritone Aria

10) Rocha, Gilles - Uther Pendragon

11) Rocha, Gilles - Crazy Turkey

Gilles Rocha CD, Uther PendragonIn the brass band world the baritone horn is never confused with the euphonium, unlike in the USA where the two names sometimes refer (incorrectly) to the same instrument. Baritone is a much smaller instrument that covers the same range as the euphonium but is not used as often in solo roles. This album demonstrates that baritone horn is a very valid solo instrument!

The album opens with Hora Staccato, a piece I first heard performed by trumpet virtuoso Rafael Mendez while I was in high school. This setting is a similar arrangement. Rocha plays with very smooth technique and in a somewhat more relaxed style than Mendez. If I were playing it I might work for longer phrases (fewer breaks for air), but that is a daunting challenge for a low brass player in this piece. In any case, Rocha handles the breaths smoothly. The ending has a very uplifting acceleration. Listen to a clip of Hora Staccato

The mood changes dramatically in the second piece, Eastern Dances. This neo-modern piece is an original for baritone horn and exploits the wide range available to modern soloists using 4-valve baritones (until recently, most baritone horns were only available with 3 valves). Gilles plays this pieces with wonderful expression. His tone and control are outstanding in all ranges. If my ears don't deceive me I heard some ornaments that Rocha performed with just his embouchure (maintaining the same fingering on each note). This is a small touch but adds a bit of "flair" that fits the passages well. Listen to a clip of Eastern Dances

Next is an original composition by Rocha, Song for My Love. In this and other pieces on the album, the light, agile sound of the baritone works very well. The baritone's clarity is well suited to the lines, and the horn has ample tone to portray lyrical pieces in their best light.

Zingaresca is in a modern style and has a very dramatic opening to get the listeners' attention immediately. The piece moves later to a fast tempo with some fine double tonguing by the soloist (and a nice high-note lip trill near the very end).

Air from Suite No. 3 ("Air on the G String") by Bach is an old favorite of mine, played here with very appropriate long phrases. His control of gradual dynamic change is excellent (virtually required to perform this piece).

Slavonic Fantasy is another old favorite of mine from various cornet and euphonium recordings I own. It works equally well on the baritone horn, especially in the hands of such an expressive musician. The piece could be a bit boring without a fine musician managing it, but there is no danger of that here! Gilles shows a spot-on interpretation in all the expressive passages and brings just the right amount of playfulness where appropriate. He ends with a flurry of 16th notes and a nicely-placed high note - just what one would want.

Fiesta Mexicana brings a selection of nice Latin folk tunes for the listener. Rocha shares some other techniques here, including what I would call a "walking lip trill." Also of note is the light and "easy" style during some the triple tonguing. The latter portion of the track has some exciting rips and finally ends in the stratosphere.

Gypsy Airs is often called Monti's Czardas (or Csardas) and is another near-perfect vehicle for Gilles' expressive range and technique. Wonderful.

A refreshing change is provided by Baritone Aria, an original composition for baritone horn. It would be fun to hear it on euphonium, as it is the kind of piece I think works well for the larger instrument. But the piece works very well indeed on baritone. I often wonder how many euphonium recitals could be enhanced by the use of baritone for a few pieces - in this case the lighter baritone sound is very easy to listen to. Of course, such a doubling would require a euphonium player to keep up a high level of ability on baritone (or vice versa), and doing justice to both instruments is not to be taken for granted. Listen to a clip of Baritone Aria

The title track,Uther Pendragon, is perhaps the most "modern" piece on the album (in style). The demands are rigorous, but here the artist does not abandon his habitually musical approach for the sake of just playing "a bunch of notes." He does full justice to the work (not surprising, since it is his composition!), and the flavor of this piece is the semi-final touch in rounding off the wide variety of musical styles on the CD. Listen to a clip of Uther Pendragon

The final touch of variety is Crazy Turkey. As the title suggests, this is not a standard baritone solo. It is multi-tracked extravaganza in a swing-music style, requiring impressive technical flexibility to handle the various rips/doits, smacks, drops, etc., not to mention the mandolin-like effects and the double-high C (Bb concert) near the end. Gilles plays all four parts himself. Listen to a clip of Crazy Turkey

Whether you are a euphonium player, and baritone player, or simply a fan of low brass music, this album is a "must-have" item. It combines a nicely varied program with lovely musical moments and top-notch technique. Recording quality is also very good (I assume so, without having heard Gilles perform live - it sounds right, though). The accompaniment is very impressive as well, provided by Corinne Valotton and Bertrand Moren. Ordering information is below. If you snooze, you lose!

The recording is available (with PayPal) from the performer's website:

or via Amazon's MP3 downloads, where you can buy the whole album or any track(s): Uther Pendragon by Gilles Rocha

Here is Mr. Rocha's biography:

Gilles Rocha was born in 1988 in Sion, Switzerland. He started playing euphonium when he was 8 years old in a Village Band in Valais, the Concordia Vétroz. He received musical training while in the school band. Then, Gilles began learning euphonium with Bertrand Moren, the famous Swiss composer. In 2000, he changed his instrument to the baritone horn. The baritone became "his instrument." Around this same time he began to win several regional and national competitions. In 2004, he joined in the Brass Band 13 Etoiles, the most decorated band in Switzerland. In 2007 and 2008, he won 2nd place at the International Contest Intermusica in Autria.

Professionally, Gilles continues his business study in Switzerland. He still plays with the Brass Band 13 Etoiles and performs occasionally as soloist with various Bands on demand.

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