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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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The History of Brass Band Music: The Early Years 1850-1920
Enderby JACKSON (1827-1903)

Yorkshire Waltzes [07:53]
Paul Jean-Jacques LACOME (1838-1920) arr. Jean Baptiste ARBAN

Quadrilles [04:52]
Lowell MASON (1792-1872) arr. Alexander OWEN (1851-1920)

Bethany (Nearer My God To Thee) [02:40]
George ALLAN (1864-1930)

The Diplomat [02:48]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868) arr. George ELLIS

William Tell – Selection (abridged) [03:53]
John HARTMANN (1830-1897)

Pretty Jane – Grand Fantasy for cornet solo* [11:02]
Emile WALDTEUFEL (1837-1915)

Estudiantina [05:59]
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921) arr. Charles GODFREY (Jr) (1839-1919)

Hansel and Gretel – Medley [08:18]
James Ord HUME (1864-1932)

BB & CF [04:31]
Percy FLETCHER (1879-1932)

Labour and Love [11:12]
Grimethorpe Colliery (UK Coal) Band/Elgar Howarth
with Richard Marshall* (cornet)
Recorded at Morley Town Hall, 8th-9th May 2004
DOYEN DOY CD162 [64:01]

 

This is a carefully researched and fully annotated disc. It documents brass band music from its beginnings to its "coming of age" when it had its own genres of music and important professional composers writing for it. The last composer featured here, Percy Fletcher, was a well-known figure in the field of quality light music and wrote extensively for brass band.

We begin with a reminder that early brass bands played dance music, such as waltzes and quadrilles, which were progressively dropped from the repertoire. Hymn tunes have always been popular and medleys from well-known operas have held their own, whereas variations for cornet solo have faded from view – here we have a set on Bishop’s melody "Pretty Jane" from which, on a less historically-minded and more enjoyment-orientated record, a few variations might profitably have been dropped.

Not that enjoyment is lacking. The Grimethorpe Colliery Band is one of Britain’s most famous bands – maybe the most famous since its participation in "Brassed Off". At the time of that memorable film its future was in doubt so it is good to learn from the booklet that it now looks secure. Under the experienced direction of its Music Adviser, Elgar Howarth, whose interests range from the most uncompromising contemporary scores to the present repertoire, everything goes with a will and a swing, except perhaps "Nearer My God To Thee" which I thought almighty slow. This, by the way, is not the John Bacchus Dykes melody used in England but one by Lowell Mason which tends to be preferred by American congregations.

In the last resort, it’s the composers whose names we know who make the biggest impact. I won’t pretend I’m going to clamour for the complete works of Enderby Jackson, but it’s interesting to take a peep into our great-grandfathers’ world and see the genre develop. The "William Tell" selection is based on single movements, "neat" as it were (here we get the Ballet Music and the Galop") whereas Charles Godfrey provides a well-crafted medley of the principal themes of "Hansel and Gretel". "The Diplomat", by the gifted amateur George Allan, is a "road march" and it swings along amiably enough (and one of the themes sounds very familiar) whereas BB & CF, by the professional composer James Ord Hume, was a "contest march", and a super one too. This and Fletcher’s tone poem bring the programme to a stirring end.

I noted a few moments of imprecision and doubtful intonation in some of the less well-known pieces, particularly the "Yorkshire Waltzes", but the spirit is always right and the band gives a magnificent account of the tried and tested repertory works at the end. With fine recording this is obviously mandatory for those with an interest in brass bands, but others might enjoy it too.

Just one piece of nit-picking- The timings given on CDs often prove to be wrong by a few seconds either way, but an error of 20% (they claim 79:53) would seem to fall into Lady Bracknell’s category of carelessness.

Christopher Howell



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