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Wilfred HEATON (1918-2000)
The Heaton Collection - Volume Three

Five Little Pieces (1955) [9:45]
Trombone Concerto (1952) [26:11]
French (2000?) [5:26]
Annie Laurie (2000?) [8:59]
Beulah Land (2000?) [12:07]
Black Dyke Band/Dr. Nicholas Childs
International Staff Band of the Salvation Army/Stephen Cobb
Recorded 4th April 2005, Morley Town Hall (Tracks 1 Ė 6 Black Dyke) 23rd June 2004, Henry Wood Hall, London (Tracks 7 Ė 11 International Staff Band) DDD
SP&S SPS 198 CD [62:53]

 

After many years of listening to Wilfred Heatonís music it has troubled me time and time again that here we have a composer of genuine talent who should be well known outside the world of brass bands. At one time it did appear that his path would take him into the wider musical world with private composition lessons under Matyas Seiber opening up possible new horizons. Indeed, it was probably no coincidence that Heaton saw two of his early works, the Rhapsody for oboe and string orchestra and Three Pieces for piano, performed in concerts organised by the Society for the Promotion of New Music, an organisation of which Seiber was at that time a council member.

Yet from his early years in the Salvation Army it was to be the brass band with which Heaton became synonymous. It was a reputation that clearly troubled the composer deeply, resulting in his eventual declaration that he would cease composing altogether if he could not attain recognition outside the brass band world. As a consequence he virtually gave up serious composition altogether for many years, although the composer cited a further reason for this as his coming under the influence of Anthroposophy, a movement founded by the Austrian Rudolf Steiner that advocated daily meditation, reading and critical thinking in a manner designed to elevate the body and spirit to a higher level of consciousness.

It was therefore not until quite late in his life that he turned to composition once more ("I suppose the urge to compose never really leaves you"). Perhaps somewhat ironically given his earlier frustrations, it was the brass band that again became his prime source of inspiration. By this time Heaton had worked for a good number of years as a peripatetic music teacher in Harrogate and as a Yorkshire man born and bred it must have been difficult to hide away from the brass bands that existed in virtually every corner of his native county. It was possibly in an attempt to reconcile these factors that he turned to his early pieces and set about reworking many of them into substantial works for brass band.

As a case in point the Trombone Concerto started its life as the aforementioned Op. 1 Rhapsody for oboe and strings, originally written in 1952. Given the disparate characters of the two instruments it is to Heatonís credit that the resulting work for trombone has a feeling of being utterly conceived for the instrument. It is a major piece, not far short of half an hour in length, playing continuously and being masterfully constructed with characteristic formal ingenuity and cohesion. Interestingly, given that influences such as Bartók, Prokofiev and Stravinsky are discernible elsewhere in Heatonís music, it is Walton and Britten that surface most frequently here. Yet to over-emphasise the point is to detract from the achievement of the composer in producing a work that also highlights many of Heatonís melodic and rhythmic thumb prints. Brett Baker, the principal trombonist of the Black Dyke Band is a worthy advocate although it would be good to hear Christian Lindberg take the work on in orchestral guise.

The other contribution on the disc from the Black Dyke Band, the Five Little Pieces, has its origins in the Little Suite for recorder and piano of 1955. Heaton reworked the suite into several forms, the brass band incarnation initially having been rumoured as a possible test piece for the All England Masters contest in 1989. Ultimately however it was never used, probably on account of it being too short. As a result Heaton was never able to comply with the contest organiserís request for a test piece for the contest, a great pity for which the band world is all the poorer. As in the Trombone Concerto influences are never far from the surface. Yet also as in the Trombone Concerto Heaton succeeds in weaving these into the fabric in such a way that there are also tantalising glimpses of other Heaton band works, most notably the magnificent Contest Music. Hindemith and Bartók in particular play their part (the Con Energico second piece could easily be mistaken for a Bartók peasant dance) yet there is no detraction from the quality of the writing.

The three pieces played by the International Staff Band of the Salvation Army occupy somewhat different musical territory. French is essentially a prelude or chorale on the hymn tune of the same name. Completed by Paul Hindmarsh from Heatonís incomplete sketch, it is a personal if conservative response to a hymn that clearly made an impression on the composer. Annie Laurie is a cornet solo in air varié style that takes the form to a considerable level of sophistication. As Paul Hindmarsh points out in his admirably comprehensive booklet notes the work is rooted in Salvation Army tradition, a well known tune, set using a form that was well known through the likes of similar works by Salvationist composers such as Erik Leidzen. Yet at nearly ten minutes Heaton allows himself to be both adventurous and demanding of the soloist, whose stamina and technique is tested to the limits.

Beulah Land, a suite in three movements that Heaton rather disarmingly referred to as a "waltz" reverts to the composerís Christian beliefs: Heatonís musical interpretation of the joy that awaits the Christian in Heaven. I found the work to be rather cloying in its light-heartedness and lacking the vital edge that for me is both memorable and essential in Heatonís "serious" works. It nonetheless receives an affectionate and well prepared performance by the excellent International Staff Band under bandmaster Stephen Cobb.

The Trombone Concerto makes this disc highly worthwhile but if you enjoy what you hear do not be without the initial double disc volume of ĎThe Heaton Collectioní. In Contest Music and the Toccata, Oh The Blessed Lord, it contains two of the finest works Heaton ever penned for the brass band and in the former one of the seminal works of the brass band repertoire.

Christopher Thomas



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