back of the CD booklet has a photograph of the RNCM’s Head of
Conducting, Clark Rundell, smiling broadly at the camera. As
well he might, for this is a superbly played disc of very memorable
To their eternal credit Chandos have always championed
brass bands but goodness knows we have come a long way since
the days of the military, municipal and marching bands. And
noble though that tradition undoubtedly is, here we have sophisticated
music-making, helped in no small measure by music of quality
and the hard work of institutions such as the RNCM.
The disc kicks off with the deliciously cheeky staccato
opening to Awayday by Welshman Adam Gorb. Remember those
old British Rail posters urging commuters to head for the countryside
of a weekend? Well there is something rather more metropolitan
than bucolic in this music, with its blend of jazzy, Broadway-style
melodies. There’s more than a hint of finger-clickin’ Bernstein,
too, and some great percussion work to boot.
After this upbeat beginning Liverpudlian Kenneth Hesketh's
Diaghilev Dances are altogether more restrained. A commission
from a consortium of music colleges, this seven-movement piece
- played without a break - evokes the heady days of Ravel, Debussy,
Prokofiev and Stravinsky, all of whom provided ground-breaking
ballets for Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballet
Russes in the first decades of the 20th century.
Hesketh supplements the wind band with flutes and harps
and the mysterious opening of the Introduction recalls Ravel’s
Daphnis et Chloé, with the following pieces hinting
at some of the rhythmic complexity of Stravinsky’s Firebird.
Underpinned by brass playing of impeccable intonation the
music, in part marked Soave, does indeed have a cool
sophistication and wit, ending with an energetic dance section
and an expansive final dance/scherzo.
Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Water Music, commissioned
by The National Trust for the re-opening of the Stratford Canal in 1964, owes an obvious debt to Handel’s
piece of the same name. It contains baroque dance forms expertly
woven into the music as only Arnold can do. Of course he was no stranger to the
dance, composing two sets of English Dances (Opp. 27
and 33) and one set each of Scottish Dances (Op. 59),
Cornish Dances (Op. 91), Irish Dances (Op.126)
and Welsh Dances (Op. 138).
opening Allegro is measured but agile (the writing is wonderfully
transparent here). The Andantino has at its heart a slowly bobbing
motif, a siciliana, appropriate for a piece designed to be played
on a barge. The final Allegro lets rip with percussion and drums;
this is Sir Malcolm in grand ceremonial garb, a bravura piece
ending, appropriately enough, with a fanfare.
John McCabe, who hails from Huyton, near Liverpool, has written symphonies, concertos, instrumental works
and ballet scores, as well as pieces for brass band. He describes
Canyons, composed for the Symphonic Wind Ensemble of
the Guildhall School of Music, as a personal response 'to
the imposing landscapes of the American South West'.
Don't expect mere scene painting in the manner of Grofé’s
Grand Canyon Suite or the metaphysical musings of Messiaen.
There is nothing monolithic here either – although some percussion-led
blocks of sound might well summon up cliffs and gorges in
the mind’s eye. There are a variety of rhythms and textures
at work here, with jazzy syncopations in the central movement.
In the final Allegro vivace – Adagio the music is bolstered
by elemental, pulsing drums and the work ends with the fading
echo of a snare drum. Very atmospheric indeed.
last work on the disc is by Glaswegian Buxton Orr, who studied
and taught at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. As a
composer he dabbled in serialism and also conducted the London
Jazz Composers' Orchestra for 10 years.
The first movement of his John Gay Suite – based
on The Beggar’s Opera (1728) by John Gay – is delightfully
jaunty with some beautifully blended brass playing. The second
movement, a dusky Romanza, has more than a twist of Weill’s
Dreigroschenoper, itself a musical reworking of Gay’s
original play. The wistful central theme is underpinned by percussion
playing of great delicacy, which is well caught by the Chandos
The ensuing Intermezzo is a good example of Orr's compositional
skills, weaving together as it does the tune 'Over the hills
and far away' with an English jig. The movement ends with some
Stygian brass writing that is astonishingly secure and confident.
The Finale opens with a jaunty French drinking song followed,
inevitably, by a tipsy interlude before an exuberant coda brings
the music romping home. A fitting end to a hugely enjoyable
The broad, deep soundstage favoured by Chandos suits
the music well. There is no hint of brashness and the finer
details of flute and muted percussion are well caught. Another
winner for veteran producer Ralph Couzens and his recording
team of Don Hartridge, Tim Archer and Sharon Hughes.
But it is the playing of the band under Rundell that
is most deserving of praise. Aided by music of great skill and
transparency, these players achieve a wonderfully homogeneous
sound. Indeed, Britain has produced some very fine brass players in the past
and the standard of music making here augurs well for the future.
If you're looking for ‘lollipops’ or the more traditional
band sound this may not be for you. But if you are looking for
modern British classics played by one of the best wind ensembles
anywhere then you’ve come to the right place.
Huzzas all round!