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The World of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble

Music for the Royal Fireworks (HANDEL arr. Elgar Howarth)
Canzon IV a 6 (GIOVANNI Gabrieli ed. Philip Jones)
Pavane (John BULL arr. Elgar Howarth)
The King's Hunting Jigge (John BULL arr. Elgar Howarth)
La Mourisque from Susato Suite (Tylman SUSATO ed. John Iveson)
Basse Danse Bergeret from Susato Suite (Tylman SUSATO ed. John Iveson)
Allegro- Adagio- Allegro from Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (BACH)
Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (William WALTON arr. Elgar Howarth)
Fanfare for the Common Man (Aaron COPLAND)
The Dam Busters March (Eric COATES arr. W. J. Duthoit)
Entry of the Gladiators (Julius FUCIK)
Sleeping Beauty-Waltz (TCHAIKOVSKY arr. John Fletcher)
The Liberty Bell (John Phillip SOUSA)
The Swan from Carnival of the Animals (Camille SAINT-SAËNS)
Mack the Knife (Kurt WEILL)
America from West Side Story Suite (BERNSTEIN arr. Eric Crees)
Baba Yaga and The Great Gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition (MUSSORGSKY arr. Elgar Howarth)

Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
Decca 467 785-2 [AAD/DDD 69:33]
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With the recent passing of Philip Jones it was not only a fine trumpet player that the musical world lost. Jones was an ambassador for both his profession and the cause of putting brass ensemble playing firmly on the map. In this he succeeded almost single-handedly and in doing so created the inspiration for a generation of brass players as well as the formation of many other ensembles along similar lines. Jones retired from playing in 1986, the ensemble re-forming under the name London Brass. Even then he continued to work tirelessly, being appointed Principal of Trinity College of Music and exercising his other talents as an administrator. In a recent tribute concert broadcast on Radio Three I recall James Watson, one of Jones' trumpet playing colleagues, commenting on his self-effacing character, always eschewing the limelight himself in favour of his younger colleagues: a fitting tribute to a genuinely caring man.

The music featured on this disc, whilst covering an impressively wide span, concentrates on the lighter side of the PJBE repertory, comprising (with one notable exception in the form of Fanfare for the Common Man) arrangements of baroque and renaissance works as well as arrangements of familiar classics and marches. The material has been drawn from the large number of discs that the group released over the years and has been chosen, understandably, for its mass appeal. What it does not pay tribute to is the group's policy of commissioning new original music on a regular basis. How good it would be to think that Decca might give consideration to re-releasing further discs concentrating on the more serious side of their repertoire. There is some wonderful music by the likes of Leonard Salzedo, Malcolm Arnold and Stephen Dodgson which really deserves another airing!.

Many of the baroque and renaissance works on the disc feature the arranging skills of Elgar Howarth, now known principally as a conductor, but himself a former professional trumpet player. Renaissance music in particular works very well on brass instruments, not surprisingly perhaps with a composer such as Giovanni Gabrieli, whose antiphonally conceived effects suit the medium exceptionally well. The two short pieces by John Bull are a delight, particularly the Pavane, Howarth exploiting the warmth of the group to the full with some wonderfully sonorous sounds emanating from the middle and lower end of the ensemble. The two short and familiar Susato pieces are not technically challenging but are given lively and characterful treatment. What may surprise listeners new to these arrangements (and purists in particular) is the success with which the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 transfers to the medium. Again there is some impressively fluent playing on display, notably in the final Allegro where the dovetailing between the various voices is deftly handled.

Of the "modern" music featured the performance of Fanfare for the Common Man is a superb example of controlled legato playing, the line of Copland's famous majestic melody never broken. The arrangement of Walton's Spitfire Prelude and Fugue also generates some fine playing. True, the trumpets are audibly straining a little in places but it hardly detracts from the overall performance when the fugue catches fire as this does.

In the final year of Philip Jones tenure with the group they recorded a disc of famous marches, for which they were augmented to a full size wind band (I well remember buying the disc not realising this and feeling slightly "swindled", as a brass player myself, that woodwind had been added!). The three marches included here are played with exceptional tautness. I would single out Entry of the Gladiators in particular, which has real swagger, guaranteed to bring a smile to the face!

The highlight of the disc however is unquestionably Baba Yaga and the Great Gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition. Elgar Howarth's transcription is masterful (probably the finest of all of his many arrangements), the playing immensely powerful and astonishing in its impeccable balance and virtuosity in the transition between the two movements.

Admittedly there are a few quibbles. The arrangement of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty for four tubas (all parts multi-tracked by John Fletcher) is a novelty item which I am afraid does nothing for me at all, even though the playing is impressive. In addition Eric Crees' arrangement of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story is a fine transcription but not when America is horribly "hacked" from the complete arrangement as it is here. The same criticism can be levelled at Mack the Knife. Overall however this is a fine compilation which serves not only as an excellent introduction to those who may be new to the PJBE but also forms a fitting tribute to the man himself and the quality of British brass playing generally.

Christopher Thomas

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