Thursday 10 February 2011

Stephen Bell's Desert Island selection

Britten Sinfonia's prinicipal horn, Stephen Bell is currently touring with the orchestra as soloist in Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with Mark Padmore. Leeds Town Hall asked him to come up with his own Desert Island Disc selection and these are his choices;

Not that I’m particularly a Royalist, but there has to be good reason for including this anthem at every Coronation since 1727! From that opening orchestral crescendo until the wonderful first entry of the choir, this music is simply joyous and uplifting – one of the main reasons my wife chose it to walk down the isle at our wedding in 2007. Our village church was packed, and with a local choir and visiting musicians, it made for a very special and emotional start to our big day.

As a horn player, there is nothing better than being in a section of horns in full flight, and Richard Strauss excels in writing full-bodied unison horn melodies. At the climax of this wonderful tone poem (at the summit of the mountain) is such a melody written for all 8 horns, and even though I have been lucky enough to perform this piece on many occasions including a couple of times at the BBC Proms, it still never fails to thrill. Also, this was the first piece I bought on CD when I visited Hong Kong in the early 80’s and came back (as did most of the orchestra) with the latest must have gadget - a CD Walkman.

I’ve played the piano since I was four years old, and despite the best efforts of my elderly and rather strict piano teacher, my greatest pleasure was playing music by ear rather than off the printed page. I was first introduced to Michel Camillo in 1985 when he was performing at The Blue Note Jazz Club alongside such notable jazz musicians as Dave Weckl (drums) and fantastic trumpeter Lew Soloff. His music has a distinct Caribbean flavour (he was born in the Dominican Republic) and he plays with effortless style, huge rhythmic intensity and sounds like he must have at least three hands! Why Not? is the title track of his first album released at around the time I met him in New York.

Mahler 2 has without doubt one of the most thrilling endings to any piece – and again, one that always has a buzz to be part of in performance. Mahler is one of those composers who always has the bigger picture at the centre of all his vast musical structures, and at the end of almost 90 minutes, this magnificent final section never fails to thrill audiences and performers alike.

It goes without saying that Mozart’s contribution to the repertoire of the French Horn is so significant (especially the four well-known concertos), but in many ways, the pinnacle for me is the wonderful Quintet in Eb for horn and strings - (slightly unusual line-up of string quartet which has violin, 2 violas and cello) - and which combines the stylistic horn writing of the concertos with the brilliant sense of chamber music that Mozart seemed to produce so naturally. It was also the piece that I made my first commercial recording with, alongside the fabulous members of the Lindsay String Quartet for ASV records.

LUXURY ITEM – Fawlty Towers DVD collection (and something to play them on.)
Still pricelessly funny after almost 40 years!

BOOK – Margery Williams: The Velveteen Rabbit
Charming, innocent and still enjoyed.

You can catch Stephen Bell performing Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings in Southampton on Thursday 10 February, Birmingham on Friday 11 February and in Leeds on Saturday 19 February 2011.

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