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The King of Elflandís Daughter


Gwennan Gorn

Gareth WOOD


Buy As You View Cory Band/Robert Childs
Recorded St. Julianís School, Newport, May and June 2002 DDD
DOYEN DOY CD144 [68:25]


In the early 1980s The Cory Band, as they were simply known then, enjoyed a highly successful period in their history. This included winning the highly coveted National Brass Band Championships "hat-trick" for Wales between 1982 and 1984 under the direction of the late Arthur Kenney. Sadly a number of years in the doldrums were to follow. This was partly due to a serious fire at their bandroom that saw their library of music go up in flames as well nearly sending the band completely under.

It is good, on the evidence of this disc, to hear that they are back in tremendous and resounding style attracting well merited once again on the contest stage. Sponsorship of course makes a major difference and the band have been lucky enough to land a deal that has obviously made a major difference to them.

Equally it is good to find an adventurous programme of music packed onto one disc although it should be said that none of this music falls into the category of avant-garde or out and out atonality. All too often I have found myself berating the brass band movement for their reactionary attitudes and lack of adventure in exploring contemporary music. I say this despite the assertion in the booklet that brass bands have "an insatiable appetite for performing new music". Sadly the negativity of attitudes is still all too prevalent. If you are in any doubt just consider the furore over the choice of Judith Binghamís Prague as test-piece for this yearís regional round of qualifying contests for the National Brass Band Championships. On this level at least, this disc comes as a real breath of fresh air.

All of the works on the disc have some kind of connection with the bandís native Wales, albeit some more tenuous than others. John Pickard lived and worked in Wales for a number of years (he was a former pupil of William Mathias) and therefore has one of the closest connections with this thread. He is the only composer represented by two pieces, both of which were commissioned by Welsh organisations. Invocation is a brief, vigorous concert opener, the composerís response to being asked for a fanfare. A fanfare it is not although it is certainly an effective and arresting adrenalin rush. Wildfire takes as its starting point a report in a local newspaper of a Welsh forest fire that started in two separate locations with the fires ultimately converging. Although the composer indicates that the music is not meant to be a programmatic description of the fire it certainly builds impressively from a quiet beginning through a number of powerful climaxes to a ferocious conclusion. In terms of its language I found myself reminded of John McCabe on a number of occasions, notably Images and Cloudcatcher Fells. There is also, perhaps, a hint, in the wilder dancing sections, of Derek Bourgeoisís band pieces. Pickardís writing is challenging but rewarding and draws an impressive response from the band.

By contrast David Bedfordís Requiem occupies a more straightforwardly melodic style that will be familiar to anyone who owns the Doyen recording of his music for wind band (also reviewed for Musicweb). The piece was written in response to the composerís feelings of guilt at being frustrated by a traffic jam that he later discovered had been caused by an accident in which a young girl had died. The music comes across as strangely superficial although it is certainly attractive in its melodic simplicity.

Rodney Newton has had links for a number of years with the National Youth Brass Band of Wales and wrote the King of Elflandís Daughter specifically for this recording following a commission from Robert Childs and the Buy As You View Cory Band. Taking its inspiration from the fantasy novel of the same name by Edward Plunkett (Lord Dunsany) it is a majestic, often lyrical piece that grows organically from the opening mysterious, mist-shrouded bars. Its sonorous world is well suited to the band who sound equally majestic in this sonically impressive recording.

Nigel Clarkeís Gwennan Gorn is an altogether more boisterous affair, a bruising account of the voyage of the Welsh Prince Madoc to America and his alleged encounter and ultimate settlement with the Native American tribe of the Mandans. The sheer power and violence of the opening material returns to close the piece. It is unmistakably Celtic in flavour, with a more lyrical central episode incorporating brief references to authentic Mandan music unearthed by the composer. Anyone who knows McCabeís Cloudcatcher Fells may just recognise the (coincidental?) final stabbing three notes!

Geographically at least, Gareth Wood is perhaps the closest of all these composers to the band, having been born and bred in South Wales and having spent many years as a member of the double bass section of the London Symphony Orchestra. He has produced a significant amount of brass music, albeit of somewhat variable quality. Salome, written for the hundredth anniversary of the Parc and Dare Band, is a vivid, strongly characterised rhapsody based on the biblical story that had previously inspired Richard Strauss. From the crunching, progressively more dissonant sounds of the opening depicting the brutality of Herodís regime, the music passes through comparative tranquillity in its initial portrait of Salome herself. The tides turn as Salome shows her true colours culminating in the "Dance of the Seven Veils" and ultimately Salomeís death.

Doyen have captured the Buy As You View Cory Band in magnificently full-throated sound, often with sonically spectacular results. The quality of the playing is rarely less than thrilling both in terms of the band as a whole and individually with solo cornet and euphonium both worthy of individual note (some may remember solo euphonium David Childs as a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year a few years ago). The result is a fine release recommended without hesitation.

Christopher Thomas



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