CD Review

In Recital at Tulle Cathedral
Graham Ashton – trumpet
Michael Mattes – organ
Signum Classics (London)

“This recording becomes more interesting and challenging as it progresses. Works by da Pesaro and Pachelbel slip past easily, as do the arrangements of Handel’s Sonata in F and Purcell’s Parts upon a Ground. The organ sound is classical, light and pleasing, the trumpet clear and sparkling in the upper registers”.

“The two modern works are both very pleasing. Graham Ashton’s rather austere Fantasia on a Ground after Purcell makes striking use of the acoustic in Tulle. The opening is so quiet I thought something was wrong with my system”.

“Roger Steptoe’s Sonata for trumpet and organ is an equally challenging piece though one that recommends itself on subsequent hearing. Tonality is used to create tension, which contrasts impressively with the musical lines spinning out with great beauty”.

All Arts Review (Washington DC, USA)

“The Embassy Series concert Friday evening at the Embassy of Australia was an absolute jewel of a concert, and members of the audience who shut their eyes to block out the large pieces of Australian art hanging so handsomely on nearby walls might have thought they were in one of Christopher Wren’s London churches or a Baroque church in Prague. The performers were highly talented, the music was delightful, and the organization of the program conjured up the Viennese term “mit Schlag.” It was the inevitable richness of riches”.

“On paper, it was an evening of Baroque music for trumpet, soprano voice and piano. Perhaps technically there should have been a harpsichord to provide background continuo, but only a concert grand piano had a chance against Graham Ashton’s astonishingly skilled trumpet performance and Donna Balson’s equally celebratory singing”.

The New York Times (New York, USA)

“Graham Ashton gave a fine account of the trumpet obligato in the aria Grosser Herr”.

Virgin Classics (Paris, France)

“One of the most memorable sounds from the score of Greenaway’s film: The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover, is the trumpet of Graham Ashton”.

New York Times (New York, USA)

Guggenheim Museum: “The Vox Vocal Ensemble was joined by the Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble. Both groups began high in the museum’s rotunda with a zesty, resonant account of Scheidt’s “In Dulci Jubilo”….an increasingly complex web of appealing and often sensual choral and brass counterpoint”.

American Poems (New York, USA)

CD release ‘Concertos, Sonatas and Suites (IMP Classics): “If you read the notes that come with this CD, you can read all of the terrific reviews from the past that Graham has received, so I won’t put them here. This CD very accurately captures how clearly Graham understands the Baroque trumpet, and Baroque music in general. His interpretations are always tasteful, and he plays with the audience, (live or not) in mind. I HIGHLY recommend this CD to any trumpet player looking for a recording of a step forward for the trumpet; something which happens to be very hard to find today”.

All Music Guide (New York, USA)

CD release ‘Trumpet Concertos & Sonatas’ (Virgin Classics): ‘Trumpet Concertos & Sonatas’ is a successful example of a release that can appeal to a range of classical listeners, from those simply in search of music for the dinner hour to those specifically interested in trumpet music or in the Baroque concerto. The Albinoni Sonata No. 2 for trumpet and strings in D major is the most athletic of the bunch, but trumpeter Graham Ashton handles it with aplomb.

Musical Pointers (London, UK)

CD release ‘Scenes of Spirits’ (Signum Classics): “Uniquely ambitious was trumpeter/composer Graham Ashton in using a research grant to explore new music from many cultures and create an album for his brass ensemble, using exotic instruments from several continents: Sitars, Tablas, Shakuhachi, Koto, Sho, Bodhran, Penny-Whistle, Bandeoneon & Didgeridoo! The whole booklet is on line and it makes for an absorbing read, following which you won’t be able to resist hearing how it all melds together. A really worth-while extension of the brass ensemble repertoire… Recommended unreservedly”.

All Music Guide (New York, USA)

CD release ‘Scenes of Spirits’ (Signum Classics): “As brass quintets continue to gain popularity, some have diverged from the ensemble’s entertainment function of distilling various kinds of music down to a consistent, easily enjoyed package. One of the most striking divergences has come from the Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble, a U.S. group that has offered several contemporary experiments. On Scenes of Spirits, the group interacts with musicians and composers from various cultures — something that might seem difficult for a brass ensemble to do at anything more than the most superficial level. Ashton, a trumpeter, responds to the challenge with immersion in the music he is encountering, incorporating the brass ensemble into those languages rather than seizing upon obvious features of those languages and incorporating them into traditional forms. The brasses are stretched into new textures and are mostly used to complement the sounds of non-Western instruments. The detailed notes to the first piece, Raga (performed with Indian tabla player Ustad Kadar Khan and his wife, sitarist Bina Kalavant), are well worth scrutinizing for their detailed and conscientious approach to the problem of cross-cultural collaboration; the procedures devised by trombonist Jim Pugh, involving a set of 18 musical cues that coordinate the activities of the brasses and the Indian musicians, are among the most sophisticated experiments ever undertaken in this vein. The piece is very much a North Indian classical improvisation with a brass element rather than vice versa, and in all the music, with the partial exception of Irish composer Suzanne Farrin’s All Sides Endlessness, the brasses serve to develop the music rather than set its foundations. Most of the pieces don’t begin with the sound of brasses at all, and the characteristic chords of the brass ensemble appear only at the music’s peaks of intensity. From Indian music the program moves on to a nicely grumpy set of four Japanese seasonal spirits; the Graham Ashton original Birdsong, with a didgeridoo drone (sometimes leaving its tonal seat, organum-fashion), brass quartet, percussion, and piano; Farrin’s piece, for brass trio, bodhran, pennywhistle, and bass flute; and a Brasstango by Argentine composer and frequent Piazzolla arranger Carlos Franzetti. The program is so diverse that it’s easy to forget you’re listening to a brass album — but the medium links all the music together. Highly recommended for contemporary music audiences, students of world music, and virtuoso performers interested in new experiments in collaboration.”

Music Network (Dublin, Ireland)

“The Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble encapsulates everything you could want from a classical contemporary ensemble-individual virtuosity, bold and innovative arrangements, intuitive group playing, and an effortlessly stylish blend of old and new.

Music from the Movies (LA, USA)

“… excellent trumpet playing. Graham Ashton’s trumpet solos are pitch perfect”.

The Belfast Telegraph (Belfast, Ireland)

‘BRASS MAGIC’: “Some of the world’s most acclaimed brass players gave an eclectic and captivating concert at the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine on Saturday night. [The Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble] delighted the audience as they moved from the familiar to the innovative with equal ease and musical mastery. Their repertoire included some of their own compositions: Graham Ashton’s ‘A Fantasy on Catherine’s Song’ and ‘Dreamsuite’; and Jim Pugh’s ‘Aviariations’ – explaining ‘Dreamsuite’ was inspired by a bizarre series of dreams, the audience could not help but be intrigued by this esoteric piece of music. Stravinsky’s ‘Trois Pieces’ for String Quartet, re-scored for brass, and the ‘Romanian Folkdances by Béla Bartok with its quick changes in style, let the musicians show just how talented and technically adept they are………..All too soon the concert was over, but with an encore of Duke Ellington numbers, who could complain”.

Ron Ramsey: Director, Cultural Relations, Embassy of Australia, Washington DC (USA)

“…GABE’s music was the most perfect jewel glistening in a large sea of semi-precious metal”.

The Super Audio CD (New York, USA)

CD release ‘Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani’ (SONY Sonoma): “This recording is spectacular in terms of dynamics and accuracy. Even more exciting is the quality of arrangements and the variety of musical choices made by the leader of the brass ensemble, Graham Ashton. My favorite track is number eleven which is an arrangement of a Monteverdi Toccata played in a baroque manner (less vibrato clean attack and denser sound, etc.) by 3 trumpets 3 trombones and a dash of organ.”

Stereophile (New York, USA)

CD release ‘Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani’ (SONY Sonoma): “A magnificent recording…..the arrangements are fascinating…an outstandingly rich and potent sound.”

Multi-Channel Recording Review (New York, USA)

CD release ‘Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani’ (SONY Sonoma): “…the Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble has an almost perfect synchronization.. ………spectacular and full of virtuosity.. ….[and] spectacular arrangements by trumpet player Graham Ashton, full of good ideas on how to use the instruments for best effects”.

Musical Pointers (London, UK)

CD release ‘The Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble Plays the Music of James Pugh and Daniel Schnyder’ (Signum Classics): “Graham Ashton, London born trumpeter and one time member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, has led a distinguished peripatetic professional life in Europe, Australia and, now, New York, where his ensemble of Manhattan’s finest brass players is, on this showing, as smooth and subtle as you’ll ever hope to hear. Both these composers are active in the brass world and of eclectic bent, each ‘composing in any number of styles’. The liner notes ask us to hope that they will ‘stand the test of time to become household names beyond the realms of our brass world’. This is an apt reminder that brass music, as choral music, tends to be compartmentalised and ghettoised apart from ‘mainstream’ concert fare. Additionally there are national boundaries which aren’t crossed; there is a multitude of American composers unknown in UK. James Pugh, who plays in the group, is Professor of Trombone at Purchase College and Daniel Schnyder is Composer-in-Residence with the Milwaukee Symphony Orcnestra. Pugh’s and Schnyder’s music, which feature in all GABE’s concerts, is accessible but never simplistic nor, at the other extreme, does it have any truck with ‘cutting edge’ modernism; Pugh’s the more securely tonally based, Schnyder’s the more adventurous”.

The International Horn Society (New York, USA)

CD release ‘The Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble Plays the Music of James Pugh and Daniel Schnyder’ (Signum Classics): “The Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble has produced an exceptionally fine recording. The playing is beautiful, spacious, playful, and mysterious. I have listened to it USA many times and it is better every time”!

The Brass Player (New York, USA)

CD release ‘The Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble plays the music of James Pugh and Daniel Schnyder’ (Signum Classics): “You would be hard pressed to find a brass ensemble recording that swings this hard. This project succeeds on every level: extraordinary musicianship, clear and sonorous recorded sound, fresh and interesting repertoire…….. Schnyder’s ‘Four Short Stories’ squeezes an insane amount of solo and group virtuosity into its four minutes – it will startle you again and again …………… Mark Gould’s solo trumpet recalls the fervent color of Mannie Klein. Congratulations to Graham and his ensemble, Jim, Daniel, and everyone involved with this recording”.

The Absolute Sound (New York, USA)

CD release ‘Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani’ (Signum Classics): “This recording was produced by Steven Epstein, a 12-time Grammy winner, and engineered by Richard King, a cool edition of the hot-rod recording guy. Keeping watch over it: David Kawakami, director of the Super Audio CD Project for Sony Corporation of America. The music on the disc is a series of arrangements for the aforementioned instruments [organ, brass and timpani], cleverly arranged by Graham Ashton, who heads his epononymous Brass Ensemble. The music ranges from a knockout of a piece by Richard Strauss, to Bach, Rachmaninoff, and even the “Great Gate of Kiev” from Pictures at an Exhibition. The organist is Anthony Newman and the timpanist Duncan Patton. ………I can tell you that this really is going to be a “super” disc sonically…….every bit impressive are it’s musical values. The Ashton ensemble is sensational……..just wait until you hear the lowest notes on the Strauss, or the brass seated (on some cuts) in a semi-circle stretching out into your listening room”.

Vox In Camera(New York, USA)

“This was indeed amazing and breath taking, a most enjoyable evening of virtuoso music in a beautiful setting”.

The Gramophone (London, UK)

CD release ‘The Contemporary Trumpet’ (Virgin Classics): “Graham Ashton shows himself to be an acutely thoughtful musician: virtuosity is never regarded as an end in itself, the sound never brazen and he conveys an unswerving clarity of vision which should be admired beyond the confines of the brass world among the contemporary mainstream”.

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia)

“Graham Ashton makes his instrument do everything exactly right. His clear, clean, polished, impeccable tone gives every piece he performs a chance to shine”.

CD Review (London, UK)

“Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble’s style of playing is firm, neat, selfless and scrupulously attentive”.

Financial Times London (London, UK)

“Graham Ashton brought vitatilty to the solo role”.

The Evening Press (Dublin, Ireland)

“Ashton produces the most beautiful rounded tone. He shone brilliantly”.

The Telegraph, London (London, UK)

“…wizardry of technique shone at every point…Ashton’s solo trumpet darting and soaring in vituosic dialogue with a trio of off-stage trumpets”.

The Australian, Sydney (Sydney, Australia)

“One expects nothing but perfection from Graham Ashton”.