Jaw-droppingly nimble soloist plays virtuosic violin Czardas... on the tuba?

17 November 2022, 17:25 | Updated: 18 September 2023, 09:57

Hans Nickel and the WDR Symphony Orchestra
Hans Nickel and the WDR Symphony Orchestra. Picture: WDR Symphony Orchestra

By Siena Linton

Soloist Hans Nickel is a weapon of brass destruction in this unbelievably adept performance.

Vittorio Monti’s Czardas is a staple of the violin repertoire. A whirlwind of Hungarian-inspired melodies and dance rhythms, finger-twistingly fast note runs and extended techniques, it takes a brave musician to attempt it.

Many have risen to the challenge, with arrangements existing for flute, clarinet, piano, cello, and even for the accordion! Now, a new arrangement has cropped up, and it’s possibly the most impressive one yet. In a video from the WDR Symphony Orchestra, Hans Nickel absolutely nails the solo on the tuba.

As a member of the lower brass, the tuba is often under-appreciated and rarely gets big solo moments like this one. With its rich tone and powerful dynamic range, the instrument is perfect for big, punchy chords and fanfare moments in brass bands and orchestras, so it’s terrific to hear its more elegant side in this arrangement.

The video (below) begins with dramatic tremolandos from the orchestra’s string players and a plucked harp melody. Nickel plays the expressive theme over this accompaniment, showcasing his beautiful tone across the whole range of the instrument with a gentle vibrato and light ornamentation.

Read more: Monti’s ‘Czárdás’ sounds unbelievably seductive on a saxophone

Hans Nickel plays: "Csárdás" von Vittorio Monti

Mit uns geht es "tubalent" ins neue Jahr! Was passt da besser als die feurige "Csárdás"-Interpretation von unserem Tuba-Virtuosen Hans Nickel? Mehr Tuba-Soli findet ihr in unserer Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLS66eMqyKkK1DSCsTHY7_TWgqNvueRNhF

Posted by WDR Sinfonieorchester on Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The melody becomes gradually more complex and inventive ­– including an impressive two-and-a-half-octave rip at around two minutes – before the tempo picks up into a sprightly folk-dance tune. Here’s where it gets seriously good: the tuba solo and the violins play unison semiquavers at near breakneck speed, and a close-up on the tuba’s four valves show just how dexterous Hans Nickel is.

A czardas is a Hungarian dance style which moves seamlessly between sections with different tempos, keys and characters, all built around the same theme. As Monti’s Czardas moves through different sections, Nickel replaces extended violin techniques with inventive tuba skills, substituting triple- and quadruple-stopped chords with rips and using a straight mute in place of harmonics.

The piece finishes with a show-stopping finale, reprising the semiquaver passage once more with additional octave leaps included by Nickel.

Born in the Netherlands, Hans Nickel has held the position of solo tuba with the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne, Germany since 1986, as well as being an internationally acclaimed performer and teacher in his own right. The talented tuba player even has his own playlist on German broadcaster WDR Klassik’s YouTube channel, showcasing his virtuosic abilities in favourite pieces from Saint-Saëns’s The Swan to John Williams’s Star Wars soundtrack.

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