Review


Ernst Sachse
Concertino for Contrabass Trombone and Piano:

Arranged by Charles Vernon, edited by Erik Saras.

Contrabass trombone and piano

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Publisher: Cherry Classics Music
Date of Publication: 1988 / 2021
URL: http://www.cherryclassics.com

Score and solo part.

Genre: SOLO MATERIALS

“Because it must be done.” This time-worn expression has fueled centuries of exploration and discovery and the expanding of boundaries in everything from space travel to climbing mountains to kitchen recipes. And trombone playing. The contrabass trombone enthralls a segment of our community, which is intent on pushing the instrument to contexts never imagined in the past. Confusion over the contrabass trombone and its role in the symphony and opera orchestra has led some players to use it on every measure of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen—including the “Ride of the Walküre”—when the composer clearly called for the fourth trombone player to switch between bass trombone and contrabass trombone (and it’s bass trombone, not contrabass, at the beginning of Act III of Die Walküre). Richard Strauss knew the contrabass trombone well, employing it in his Elektra, but he did not score for it in Alpine Symphony; nor did Leoš Janácěk in his Sinfonietta. Bigger is not always better. Or appropriate. Still, the contrabass trombone, when used in ways that allow its unique sound and capabilities to shine forth in appropriate contexts, is a noble member of the trombone family, and a growing group of its exponents are bringing the instrument to the fore.
The very idea of a solo piece for contrabass trombone is a relatively new thing, and the trombone catalog is filling up with freshly composed works. Transcribing a tried-and-true solo from the tenor trombone’s nineteenth century repertoire to contrabass trombone was inevitable, and arranger Charles Vernon and editor Erik Saras have done just that with their version of Ernst Sachse’s Concertino. Whether or not the cause of musical art is advanced by this transcription is beside the point. Because it must be done.
Concertino was composed for tenor trombone in the key of B-flat major. For this contrabass trombone edition, Vernon and Saras drop the piece nearly an octave and a half below the original, to G-major. The editing makes the same changes to Carl Gerlach’s 1896 edition (C.F. Schmidt, Heilbronn) that are made in Vernon and Saras' edition of the Concertino for bass trombone or tuba, and also their edition for alto trombone, and players can argue the merits of those decisions and make their own adjustments. Tellingly, the edition is not advertised for “contrabass trombone or tuba” as is the case with Vernon and Saras’ edition of Concertino for bass trombone or tuba. Contrabass tuba players are apparently excused for passing on a piece that is written this low, but evidently the editors are happy for contrabass trombonists to go where tubists fear to tread. For even the most accomplished contrabass trombonist, Concertino in such a low key offers eye-popping challenges. The nimble articulation required in Variation II, which goes down to DD, and a three octave range from GGG, a note below the compass of the piano, up to g are simply beyond the reach of all but a few players. Yes, we should always be stretching the limits of what is possible. But is every possibility a good idea? The bass trombone/tuba edition of Concertino by Vernon and Saras, with its compass from CC to c1, works quite well on contrabass trombone in nearly all respects while allowing the musical merits of the piece to be evident without drawing attention to the struggles most players will experience in this low key. To each their own.

Reviewer: Douglas Yeo
Review Published January 2, 2022