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Supremacy
Stephen BULLA

Concertante for Cornets and Band – First Movement (1996) [3:53]
Traditional arr. Olaf RITMAN

When I Survey [5:13]
Brian BOWEN

City of God [3:05]
Eric BALL

Songs in Exile [7:52]
Rodney NEWTON

The Pilgrim's Progress (2003) [13:49]
Dean JONES

Él Es El Señor [2:37]
Supremacy [8:57]
Dudley BRIGHT

Life's Command [13:10]*
Darren BARTLETT arr. Olaf RITMAN

The Lord is Gracious [2:39]
Keith GETTY & Stuart TOWNEND arr. Richard PHILLIPS

In Christ Alone [3:33]^
Dudley Bright (trombone)*, Derick Kane (euphonium)^
The International Staff Band of the Salvation Army/Dr Stephen Cobb.
rec. All Saints Church, East Finchley, 9-10 March 2007. DDD
SALVATIONIST PUBLISHING & SUPPLIES SPS 228 CD [65:34]




For the longest time the Salvation Army and competing brass bands existed side by side in almost complete ignorance of one another. Although individuals moved between the two worlds, and indeed some of the greatest brass band composers – among them Eric Ball and Edward Gregson – came from the Army, there was once an embargo on the use of non-Salvationist music by Salvation Army bands and the use of Salvation Army music by competing bands.

Times have changed. Nowadays Salvation Army bands have more freedom in repertoire selection and pieces by Salvationist composers like Robert Redhead and Kenneth Downie are frequently selected as test-pieces or own choices for major competitions. For that reason I hope that this album will find an audience beyond the Army. It deserves to. The ISB is on superb form here, and the repertoire is certainly worth hearing.

The album opens in impressive grandeur with the first movement of Stephen Bulla's Concertante for Cornets and Band. In form this movement – based loosely on Bach's Passion Chorale – is more of a fanfare and overture than a true concertante movement, but no matter. Bulla creates impressive effects by using the cornets of the band as an antiphonal brass choir. The ISB's playing is exciting here, Stephen Cobb controlling the dynamics well and the cornets projecting and blending beautifully.

The other more substantial works are just as impressive. Eric Ball's classic piece Songs in Exile is as fresh and moving today as it was when Ball penned it some forty years ago. Cobb and co. give an affectionate performance, with the first trombone playing his solo with a lovely plummy tone.

Rodney Newton's The Pilgrim's Progress is a substantial tone poem that charts the narrative of Bunyan's parable through a series of variations on Eric Ball's Pilgrim Song. The writing for band is challenging – this is test-piece material – but the musical substance is never put aside for mere pyrotechnics. The City of Destruction is depicted with hectic figurations; the music for Vanity Fair has an Arnoldian English Dances jauntiness; and there is a cornet figure in the passage reflecting the lifting of Christian's burden that resembles a tune from Rózsa's score for Ben Hur which plays as the shepherds and magi come to visit the infant Christ.

The larger of the two original works by composer Dean Jones is the album's title track and brings the disc to a close. Supremacy is a tightly constructed work that weaves hymn tunes new and old into an impressive showpiece. Bright, celebratory statements from the cornets surround the old hymn tune Moscow at the outset, and in the conclusion flashing fanfares soar above a triumphant statement of the hymn tune Pembroke . The center-piece of the work, though, is the sensitive setting of the contemporary worship song Above All.

The London Symphony Orchestra's principal trombonist, Dudley Bright, is soloist in his own composition, Life's Command. A significant addition to the repertoire, this single movement concertante work develops an original theme in opposition to, and then in harmony with, the tune of an old Army chorus. Bright's immaculate playing of his own challenging writing is beyond reproach. He also contributes a brief outline of the work to the liner-notes.

The shorter pieces on the album are equally well written and played. Two were penned by Dutch Salvationist Olaf Ritman. The first of these is a moving arrangement of the old folk tune O Waley Waley, which in Ritman's sensitive scoring is inextricably bound with Isaac Watts' powerful text for the hymn When I survey. His second contribution elaborates a song based on Psalm 103 by Darren Bartlett. Again, the arrangement is all the more powerful for its understatement.

By way of contrast, there is more than a whiff of Malcolm Arnold to Brian Bowen's upbeat City of God and the second of Dean Jones' contributions, the snappy Él Es El Señor has a spicy Mexican minor-mode feel to it.

No ISB album would be complete without a solo for Derick Kane’s euphonium. Here he projects an inwardness and quiet triumph in Richard Phillips' arrangement of the great contemporary worship song In Christ Alone. The martial key change for the final verse is a little jarring but it does showcase the upper register of Kane's euphonium and produces a fitting climax in harmony with the song's words. Together with Ritman's When I Survey, this track has been a help to me in my devotions.

Throughout this album, the ISB play with burnished tone, but mould it with great versatility. They are powerful in the substantial works where power is called for and subtle in contemplative moments. At all times their ensemble is superb.

The recorded sound is close, but not too close, and has plenty of warmth. Decent liner notes too. If I have any complaint at all, it is that I wish room had been found for the remaining movements of Bulla's superb Concertante for Cornets and Band.

I have no hesitation recommending this album as an example of premium brass playing in excellent repertoire. Brass lovers of all persuasions will find much to savour here. Believers – and not just Salvationists, I might add – will find something extra to move and inspire them.

Tim Perry


 


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