Review: George Curran – Vital Signs

 

 

Vital Signs
George Curran, Bass Trombone
Hanako Yamagata, Piano

George Curran, currently the Bass Trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, has a unique story of landing in the bass trombone world. Having spent 10 years in school on various instruments, the brass world – specifically, the bass trombone world – is thankful for the career he has accumulated so far.

In this debut solo recording, we get to experience his well rounded knowledge of the literature in tackling newly commissioned pieces as well as standard repertoire for the instrument. The first composition on the recording, Vital Signs,  was written by David Gillingham specifically for this album. Many low brass players are familiar with Gillingham’s other works, and this piece is no exception to his great writing. According to the composer, this work is based on concepts of global warming and its affects on the earth.1 With many rolling melodies in the first and third movements, the second movement creates this ethereal sound that adds a great balance to this magnificent composition.

The second feature of this composition is an arrangement based on an arrangement of George Gershwin’s Piano Preludes. This is a great rendition as Curran really portrays the colors and style that is synonymous with Gershwin’s music.

After the rousing playing of Gershwin, the album then moves to an original composition by Alan Pierce entitled, Romanza-Scherzo. Certainly fitting to its definition, the Romanza really allows Curran to showcase his lyrical style and the “velvet-y” sound that a bass trombone can produce. Even in the Scherzo movemen,t listening to the ease that Curran has in the high register is something to intentionally focus on and emulate. Take note of his crispness to the attack in both the high and low registers.

The fourth selection is the most standard of all the pieces on this album. Immediately, the solo enters into a concerto form in which Curran right from the starts takes command of the piece. Listening to the second movement, you will notice a complete difference in style in the writing. Again, Curran shows absolute control and flexiblity throughout the registers of the instrument.

The final piece of recording features students from Columbus State University where the entire recording took place. For me, this piece, Hymn for Planet Earth, is the best all-around selection on the album. Written specifically for Curran, this work can only be put into words by the composer, Steven Verhelst:

A ray of sunlight shines down on the earth. Life is slowly waking up. The earth heats up and glows. A stunning planet starts to move…With a heartwarming melody, the basstrombone sets the colour of our daily spot in the universe. A lyrical theme describes the beauty of our home. A place that breathes, lives but also suffers. Overpopulation, extreme beliefs, hunger, global warming. In the second part of this piece the basstrombone melody lightly touches all of these topics. But it is the stunning character of planet earth that survives. Nature and humanity going together. That’s what this Hymn for Planet Earth is about.2

It is fitting that the first and last selections on this album share the same topic – Earth. While the entire album gives an excellent representation of the variety in Curran’s playing, the bookend selections really take the listener beyond the notes to a point where nature and music both converge into a thing of effortless beauty.

Notes

1 – Liner notes to Vital Signs, George Curran, Peer2Records, CD, 2017.

2 – Composer’s description of this composition on his website.

Bibliography

Vital Signs, George Curran, Peer2Records, CD, 2017.

 

To purchase the album, click here.

To read the liner notes, click here.

To learn more about George Curran, click here.

Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith is the Founder and Editor of Last Row Music. He studied music at both Grace College and Carnegie Mellon University. Currently, Jeremy is the bass trombonist for Orchestra Iowa and the Huntington Symphony Orchestra. Jeremy also gives online brass lessons to students across the country from his home in Centerburg, Ohio.