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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Regionals 2003
Simon DOBSON
Lydian Pictures
Peter GRAHAM
Northern Landscapes
Wilfred HEATON (1918-2000)
Celestial Prospect
Arthur BUTTERWORTH (b. 1923)
Passacaglia on a Theme of Brahms Op.87
Judith BINGHAM (b. 1952)
Prague
Besses O’ The Barn Band – Lynda Nicholson (Dobson)
Black Dyke Band – Nicholas J. Childs (Graham and Butterworth)
Eikanger Bjørsvik Musikklag – Howard Snell (Heaton)
Williams Fairey Band – James Gourlay (Bingham)
Recorded Morley Town Hall, July 2002 (Dobson) Pell Hall, Salford, July 2002 (Graham) Studio 7, BBC Manchester, 1996 (Bingham) DDD
DOYEN DOYCD143 [57:52]

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In recent years it has become customary to release a recording of the works that are to be played as test pieces in all sections at the forthcoming regional qualifying stages of the National Brass Band Championships, held throughout the country during February and March. An opportunity for the bands concerned (particularly the lower section bands) to listen to the work they will be getting intimately to grips with, usually in a performance by a leading band and conductor.

Of the works selected for the 2003 round of contests two, Simon Dobson’s Lydian Pictures and Peter Graham’s Northern Landscapes, are newly recorded for this disc, the Dobson being a new work and the composer’s first major piece for brass band (Dobson is still a composition student under Timothy Salter at the Royal College of Music), whilst the Graham is a revised version of a work originally written for the brass quintet of the Ulster Orchestra. Heaton’s Celestial Prospect, although written shortly after the Second World War, remains little known due to the disappearance of the score, which surfaced once again in the 1980s and was subsequently significantly revised by the composer. Arthur Butterworth’s impressive Passacaglia on a Theme of Brahms, based on the Passacaglia from the fourth movement of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony in E Minor, is heard here in a fine recording drawn from a disc of Butterworth’s band music released on Doyen by the Black Dyke Band last year. Judith Bingham’s Prague was written to a commission from BBC Radio 3 for performance in the 1996 BBC Festival of Brass and this is the original live BBC recording, made during the festival by the Williams Fairey Band and James Gourlay (Bingham has since written a solo tuba work for Gourlay, Der Spuk).

Lydian Pictures and Northern Landscapes stand at the lighter end of the brass band repertoire and it is interesting to consider that both Simon Dobson and Peter Graham’s melodic, tuneful style is rooted in the brass band movement, both composers coming from a strong “banding” background. In terms of their melodic material both works are attractive yet unremarkable, the central movement of the Dobson, Romance, possibly lingering longer in the memory than the outer movements. Where both composers distinguish themselves however is in their skill in scoring for band, both using the restricted textural palette available from the ensemble with consummate skill. This in no small measure accounts for the popularity of Peter Graham’s prolific output in the band world. Quite simply, his music is fun to play.  In comparison, Simon Dobson’s youthful work stands up well and he is a young composer who will doubtless be heard again.

In many ways Wilfred Heaton is a name that should be better known outside the brass band world. Having been taught and guided by Mátyás Seiber, Heaton did make serious attempts to establish a reputation in wider musical spheres, although ultimately it is his brass band music on which his memory has come to rest. Perhaps part of the problem was his dedicated Salvationist background, something that he found exceptionally difficult to shake off in spite of experimentation with the musical fashions of the time, including serialism. Celestial Prospect takes the Salvationist song Come, comrades dear, and uses it as the basis for a set of symphonically conceived variations, notable amongst which is the central elegy, the emotional heart of the work. Despite the obvious imagination that shines in some of the variations this is not Heaton at his best and to anyone who is not familiar with his work I would strongly recommend hunting out a recording of his rather mundanely titled Contest Music. Effectively a symphony for band, the work’s bland title is anything but reflected in the music, which forms an important milestone in the brass band repertoire and is an endlessly fascinating piece to listen to.

The two heavyweight works here are undoubtedly those by Butterworth and Bingham, two very different yet equally fine pieces. I have already touched on the importance of imaginative scoring in the band repertoire and in this respect Arthur Butterworth is an acknowledged master. Anyone in any doubt should take a listen to his symphony for brass, Odin, From the Land of Fire and Ice, like the Heaton a seminal work for the medium. It is Butterworth’s Passacaglia on a Theme of Brahms that from a performance point of view, is the highlight of this disc, magnificently played by the Black Dyke Band and as mentioned above, drawn from their 2002 Doyen disc dedicated to Butterworth, a disc that I would recommend as essential listening to anyone with an interest in English music generally. Judith Bingham’s Prague falls into four continuously played sections, each of which, typically for Bingham, carries an individual programmatic element ranging from an eerie evocation of the Charles Bridge as the slow third section to a concluding fugal cacophony sub-titled Wenceslas Square, Defeat and Triumph. It is these final three words that sum up the piece, gritty, resolute and ultimately triumphant in the face of adversity, a fitting tribute to the people of a beautiful city that has been through much in its troubled history. Williams Fairey Band are equal to Bingham’s tough, robust language and in Prague I sense a work that will create much for bands to talk about come the opening regional contest in February.

Christopher Thomas.

 

 


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