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Essential Dyke - Volume VII

Simoraine [2:48]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (arr. Lorriman)
Fingal’s Cave [10:46]
Percy CODE
Zelda [7:25]
Bill WHELAN (arr. Farr)
Riverdance [6:20]
Capriccio [8:40]
Where Eagles Sing [4:02]
John MILES (arr. Broadbent)
Music [6:18]
Traditional (arr. Lovatt-Cooper)
Donegal Bay [4:05]
LENNON and McCARTNEY (arr. Fernie)
Yellow Submarine [3:40]
Philip WILBY
Vienna Nights [16:12]
Black Dyke Band/Nicholas Childs
rec. Morley Town Hall December 2006, January 2007 except Vienna Nights, live, British Open Championship, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, September 2006. DDD


And so we reach the seventh instalment in the seemingly tireless Essential Dyke series. There have been cases in earlier volumes where one could reasonably question exactly what it is that defines the “essential” of the title. In this case the answer is entirely straightforward as a result of one work; in fact one performance. Anyone that was present at the 2006 British Open Championship at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall will not have forgotten the stunning reading of Philip Wilby’s Vienna Nights that won Black Dyke yet another Open title to add to their long list of victories. Enthusiasts of brass band contests will undoubtedly have a personal favourite amongst Dyke’s many memorable winning performances but this one was special by any standards. And in this case that tag of “essential” can be justifiably applied.

Wilby’s work is a homage to Mozart in the year of the master’s two hundred and fiftieth birthday celebrations and it is a particularly personal tribute. Mozart has been a revered composer throughout Wilby’s life, a fact borne out by Wilby’s scholarly reconstructions of incomplete Mozart “fragments” which were the subject of a Yorkshire Television documentary some years ago.

This is not the first time that Wilby has turned to other composers for inspiration in his brass band works. One of his earliest yet most enduring pieces, Paganini Variations, remains popular. That said it is Masquerade, taking as its starting point Verdi’s Don Carlos, that is closest to Vienna Nights in both spirit and style.

It’s a formula that has made its mark amongst brass band players and audiences alike. Out and out modernism has always been frowned on in the conservative world of the brass band, yet the fact that Wilby often wraps his more modernist tendencies in a familiar “sugar” coating appears to have found certain resonances, even favour, in an arena that can be notoriously difficult to crack.

In Vienna Nights the devilishly technical and the melodically accessible co-exist in a work that draws its thematic inspiration from the familiar strains of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A K331. The ever-changing moods of the work take the listener from the high jinks of a man that was known to enjoy the occasional practical joke, through Viennese café music in which it is easy to imagine Mozart and “papa” Haydn passing the time of day, to music that reflects the darker recesses of Mozart’s occasionally turbulent mind. Black Dyke’s performance is one that immediately locks the listener in. Nicholas Childs has worked extensively with Wilby and there is a very clear sense of the conductor knowing exactly what it is that he wants to draw from the score. This is a performance that is brimful of atmosphere and is technically staggering both collectively and individually. If an example is to be sought of the individual quality in the band look no further than Peter Roberts on soprano cornet; it’s fair to say that he enjoys veteran status these days but there is no finer practitioner of the instrument.

Elsewhere on the disc the greatest interest lies in the soloists. Zelda, by Australian-born Percy Code, has long been one of the most popular of all cornet solos with many of the greats, including Harry Mortimer and James Shepherd, having featured the piece regularly in their concert repertoire. Black Dyke’s principal cornet, Richard Marshall is an eloquent soloist, adding a few little touches of his own whilst demonstrating a richer cornet sound than the late Harry Mortimer would surely have approved of. Tuba soloist Joseph Cook is a young man who has quickly developed a notable reputation during his tenure at Black Dyke. Rodney Newton’s Capriccio, cast in three melodically attractive interlinked sections, is both an excellent vehicle for his abilities as well as presenting a strong case for a composer whose obvious talents should be better exploited on a competitive level. Gareth Brindle is the baritone soloist in Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s touching arrangement of Donegal Bay. Even within the confines of the brass band world the baritone has not, until recently, been viewed as a solo instrument. When in the hands of a player as fine as Brindle it is difficult to understand why it has taken so long for the qualities of the instrument to be fully recognised.

The arranger of Donegal Bay, Paul Lovatt-Cooper is a member of the Black Dyke percussion team. Also included is one of his originals in the form Where Eagles Sing, a lively concert-opener very much in the vein of John Williams, which has been a recent popular concert item with bands. Coming back to my original point however, not all of the other items live up to that tag of “essential”. Howard Lorriman’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave is given a sensitive reading but the playing time given over to Riverdance, John Miles’ Music and most of all Alan Fernie’s arrangement of Yellow Submarine, could have better exploited with only a little thought.

In summary then this is simply one of those discs that one has to take a view on. If you are serious about brass band music you should not be without the “essential” performance of Vienna Nights. Whilst it should be borne in mind that the rest of the disc might not command your full attention in equal measure, the sixteen minutes of Wilby alone could be said to justify the purchase price.

Christopher Thomas



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