Perceptions and El Torro: Two Reviews

By Gordon Bowie • January 01, 1900 • 3 min read

Perceptions and El Torro: Two New Works for Bass Trombone

During the last quarter-century the available literature for Bass Trombone has increased dramatically both in quantity and quality as the instrument has become more widely recognized for its unique qualities and abilities. These two works are examples of that trend. They take advantage of the range and flexibility characteristics of the Bass Trombone and differentiate its literature from that for the Tenor Trombone.

Both of these works are for unaccompanied Bass Trombone, composed as part of the "NC Works for Bass Trombone Project," a commissioning project organized by Bass Trombone soloist, educator and publisher Aaron Misenheimer. This effort resulted in six new works from young, up-and-coming North Carolina composers that were then presented by Misenheimer as a recital tour at numerous college campuses, and published by Gold Branch Music Inc.

Perceptions, by award-winning composer Scott Miller, is a five-movement suite. The movements are designated Brightly, Slowly, Brisk, Moving, and Quick! Each movement is structured as an ABA, but has a unique character, tempo and mood. Together, they posses a unifying style with frequent meter changes and a syncopated figuration that lends cohesion to the work. The first movement, Brightly, is of moderate difficulty and centers in the range between pedal Bb and D4 with one passage that extends downward to pedal F#. The second movement, Slowly, is song-like in character and focuses on the lyrical middle register. It contains one soft, melodic passage that extends to pedal E. The rest of the suite gradually increases in difficulty with increasing tempo and syncopated tonguing in the middle register. The Final movement, "Quick!" contains the work's highest note, high Ab, several vigorous tonguing sections, an exciting accelerando, and a satisfying triple-f conclusion.

This piece is suitable for an advanced high-school player or any college bass-trombone student. The overall length is about 15 minutes, but the movements would each be extractible for teaching purposes, or if a shorter recital piece were required.

El Torro, by Greensboro-area freelancer and soloist David Sonnenberg, is an exciting tour-de force requiring speed, endurance, agility, range and flexibility. It is a single 5-minute movement composed in a free rhapsodic style with figuration that is strongly reminiscent of Flamenco guitar playing. The piece is in a very fast tempo, with frequent meter changes and occasional rubato sections that highlight the returns to the rapid tempos. Octave leaps over three octaves, rapid arpeggios, and syncopated accentuation of rapid tonguing passages abound. Rapid repeated notes as a drone while simultaneously playing the accented melody, perhaps in another octave, is a common device in Spanish classical guitar music. In this piece those techniques are translated to the Bass Trombone with a brilliant effect. The melodies have a consistent Spanish mood, reminiscent of Sevillian folk themes, and you can well imagine the excitement and energy of the bullfight in these melodies and figures.

The range is from Pedal A to high Cb (Cb3) with the predominant part of the faster passages in the middle and lower registers. The technical demands of this piece would limit its performance to very advanced players. Because its mood draws in the listener and its Spanish references are clearly understandable, this would be an effective recital closer for a player with the requisite speed and endurance.