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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    


www.doyen-recordings.co.uk

Brass Band Classics - Volume III
Cyril JENKINS (1889-1978)

Life Divine (1921) [13:14]
Antonin DVORÀK (1841-1904) arr. Geoffrey Brand

Carnival Overture (1980) [9:06]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869) arr. Frank Wright

The Judges of the Secret Court (1961) [12:34]
Thomas KEIGHLEY (1869-1936)

Lorenzo (1928) [11:20]
Eric BALL (1903-1989)

Tournament for Brass (1954) [13:56]
Buy As You View Band/Dr. Robert Childs
Recorded at Cwmbran Council Chambers and St. Julian’s School, Newport. DDD
DOYEN DOY CD178 [60:34]

 

Coming from a background in brass bands myself, I have heard it said on numerous occasions that many modern day bands outside the top flight have lost the basics of quality music-making. These are the basics of sound intonation, clarity of articulation and the ability to play a slow melody in an appropriately musical and sensitive manner. It is a sentiment that whilst sitting listening at contests, I have found myself agreeing with more than once. Of course it does not help matters that the once common slow melody contests that used to abound in the band world have now largely disappeared from the calendar. More often than not however, I hear the reason cited that modern music is the scourge of musicality. This is a theory I cannot agree with.

One reason for my scepticism is the fact that "modern" music still has a rather different meaning amongst the majority of bandsmen and women than it does in the wider musical world. A large percentage of the serious music being written for bands these days is tonal and therefore still possesses a strong degree of melodic content, even if it does also push techniques to the limit. Over the years I have been an unstinting advocate for the integration of contemporary music into the band repertoire and yet amongst the wide-ranging classic recordings of yesteryear available, it is now a comparatively rare thing for a top band to release a disc of early cornerstones of the genre in modern sound.

It would appear that it was for this reason that the Buy As You View Band came to record a series of discs that aim to capture the early original warhorses of the repertoire along with classic arrangements that have become popular in contest and concert hall alike. Hence on this third volume, Life Divine by Welshman Cyril Jenkins and Thomas Keighley’s Lorenzo rub shoulders with a later original work by a stalwart of the movement, Eric Ball and arrangements of well known Dvořák and Berlioz overtures.

The tone poem Life Divine dates from 1921 and was written for the National Brass Band Championships of that year, held at Crystal Palace. For its time the work posed huge challenges for the players and despite the fact that these days players are used to being challenged on a technical level there are still a few potential pitfalls lurking in the score. Although it is clear from the outset that Jenkins had overdosed on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade shortly before writing the piece (the music borders on the plagiaristic at times) the work’s melodic appeal and colourful scoring are notable and it is easy to see why it has always been a firm favourite in the band world. Put simply, the Buy As You View Band possess a sound like the side of a small country mansion and there were times here when I would have liked to have heard - surprising though it is to hear myself say it - a more "traditional" sound. That said the ensemble work is precision stuff and the band certainly manages to generate a fine head of steam.

In contrast, Thomas Keighley’s Lorenzo (also dubbed "tone poem") is perhaps less enduring in its appeal and does not present the same level of technical challenge. Written for the British Open Championships of 1928, it does nonetheless offer some attractive melodies even if they do tend towards the overly sentimental at times.

Sentimentality is high on the list when it comes to the music of Eric Ball, an unashamed melodist whose roots were firmly in the Salvation Army. Arguably the most popular of all contest composers, Ball always looked back over his shoulder but was one of the finest scorers for the medium and produced a string of contest pieces that remain regulars on the circuit. The three movements of Tournament for Brass (Trios and Duets, Solos and Scherzo) are all exquisitely realised, nodding noticeably towards Elgar on a number of occasions despite being written twenty years after the master’s death. The band’s more restrained approach here suits the music well and there is impressive playing from soloists and ensemble alike.

Both Carnival and The Judges of the Secret Court stem from the great tradition of band arrangements, produced in 1980 and 1961 respectively. Both are skilful in their scoring and Carnival in particular gets a blistering performance here, proving to be quite a showcase for the band’s talents. The majestic and sonorous opening of Judges of the Secret Court makes for equally rewarding listening.

Christopher Thomas

 



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