Colin May takes an unlikely musical journey to the Middle East, thanks to a Scandinavian tuba master

Daniel Herskedal

Holywell Music Room, Oxford

April 4

It’s no surprise in these days of the global village that five Norwegian master musicians, led by tuba and bass trumpeter Daniel Herskedal, played a set that was so Arabic influenced it seemed at times to be pure Middle Eastern.

But what was mind-spinning is it was done on western instruments. It shouldn’t work, yet was brilliant.

Before going on stage Herskedal explained “I have been searching for ways to adopt (Arabic scales) for an instrument that is not built for that music. The viola player spent hours and hours finding ways we can play together”.

The resonance of Herskedal’s tuba never wavered on either the highest or lowest notes. And this on a borrowed instrument, his own having met with an accident.

The ensemble playing was even more impressive, which in part had to be down to Herskedal’s talent as composer and arranger. Within this there were delicious interchanges – piano and percussion, bass trumpet and viola, tuba and cello. Throughout Eylof Dale’s well articulated, lyrical and angular piano style was a western counterpoint that meshed seamlessly with the Middle Eastern vibe.

There seemed to be a railway sub-heme with three titles having a rail connection. On the meditative Hijaz Train Station,Herskedal’s tuba sounded like the middle eastern kammance fiddle, and on Thurayya Railways the swaying rhythm was made all the more effective by the contrasting piano. The train station and railway also were linked by a mesmerising percussion solo from Helge Norbakken –a creative contrarian who plays delicate but strong, and soft in the height of a crescendo.

From Herskedal’s beautiful arching bass trumpet on Eternal Sunshine Creates a Desert, to the head-banging cello on There are Three Things you Cannot Hide: Love, Smoke and a Man Riding a Camel (with it’s final undulating riff raising expectations the camel was about to come through the Holywell doors), this was subtle evocative music, lovingly played. No wonder everyone was stamping and cheering at the end. A five star performance.