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The Best of British, Vol. 1
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Flourish for Wind Band (1939) [02:33]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Lincolnshire Posy (ed. Fennell) (1936) [17:37]
Alun HODDINOTT (b.1929)
Welsh Airs and Dances (1975) [10:47]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Japanese Suite (arr. John Boyd) (1916) [11:08]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Pomp and Circumstance Marches op.39 (arr. M. Retford/Alfred Reed): 4 (1907) [05:09], 1 (1901) [06:11]
In a Nutshell: The Gum Suckers’ March (ed. R. Mark Rogers) (1914) [03:59]
Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra/Douglas Bostock
rec. 21-22 October 2003, Sun Azalea, Saitama, Japan

I was reflecting that this repertoire must rarely have been played with such spirit and expertise since the famous old Mercury records by the Eastman Wind Ensemble under Frederick Fennell. Then I looked at the booklet and saw that Fennell himself became principal conductor of the TOKWO in 1984, and conductor laureate in 1996. But Douglas Bostock has been their principal conductor since 2000 and I am sure he deserves all due credit for maintaining such excellent standards as well as for his lively and understanding interpretations.

It seems to me that Bostock, like his Scottish colleague Donald Runnicles, has suffered from the British tendency to view with suspicion native conductors who have mostly made their career abroad. A curious inversion of this strange mentality emerged when Simon Rattle, the local wonder-kid who could do no wrong for as long as he remained in Birmingham, was called to Berlin and became overnight an unscrupulous careerist with hardly any talent at all. The true-blue-Brit idea that one just doesn’t get mixed up with foreigners is taking a long time to die.

This series is not intended to provide “The Best of British Music”. As Bostock himself tells us in a note, the title comes from the expression “the best of British luck” and points more than anything else to the predominantly cheery mood of these mostly lightish pieces. But, while any choice of the best of British music would have to embrace such things as “Enigma”, “Gerontius” and “Peter Grimes” – just to stay in the period covered here – the foreigner who comes to British music through this series should nonetheless get a highly favourable impression.

The opening “Flourish” by Vaughan Williams, for example – which was new to me – says a remarkable lot in two-and-a-half minutes. It has that noble breadth which entered British music through Parry, but also a suggestion in its countermelodies of a certain subversive cheekiness.

Percy Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy” has – characteristically – a crazily misleading title, for its slow movements pack a real emotional punch. Together with the irresistible verve of its quicker pieces, this is a BIG work, and as good a refutation as any of Constant Lambert’s notorious dictum that the only thing you can do with a folk-tune is to “play it again louder”.

I’m not quite so sure about the Hoddinott “Welsh Airs and Dances”. They’re pleasant enough, but while Vaughan Williams, Grainger and Holst all showed in their own day that a composer can be contemporary without losing his audience, Hoddinott in this case seems to be trying the George Lloyd trick of just not being a contemporary composer at all. There isn’t the character here that you find in his best serious works.

Holst certainly doesn’t lack character and this rare Japanese Suite is no exception. I have always loved it in Boult’s Lyrita recording of the original orchestration and have never seen why it didn’t reach the same popularity as “Beni Mora”. Bostock doesn’t wean me off the original but the music is remarkably effective in this form and the actual interpretation stands up well beside Boult’s.

In the Elgar, too, Bostock seems to have inherited Boult’s way of making this music swing without ever getting bogged down in the patriotic moments. No. 4 starts with the right air of suppressed excitement just dying to burst out – which of course it soon does.

On paper, I thought it a bit unimaginative to follow the two Elgar marches with another march, but this cheeky piece by Grainger is something else again and makes a whoopy ending to a programme which should encourage foreigners to explore British music while at the same time providing some rarer items for the British collector.

The notes by Lewis Foreman contain all the information one would expect from him, the recording is excellent and I have volumes 2 and 3 lined up for review so watch this space!

Christopher Howell 


Kosei Publishing Co.



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