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Regionals 2008
Eric BALL (1903-1989)
Festival Music [15:22]
Gilbert VINTER (1909-1969)
James Cook – Circumnavigator [10:45]
Kenneth DOWNIE (b. 1946)
Three Part Invention [11:21]
Paul LOVATT-COOPER
The Dark Side of the Moon [12:46]
Rodney NEWTON (b. 1945)
Four Cities Symphony [11:25]
Black Dyke Band/Dr. Nicholas Childs
Cory Band/Dr. Robert Childs
Whitburn Band/Duncan Beckley
rec. Morley Town Hall, 12 July 2007 (Festival Music and The Dark Side of the Moon); Ysgol Gyfun Rhydywaun, Aberdare, 3 June 2007 (James Cook – Circumnavigator and Four Cities Symphony); The Regal Theatre, Whitburn, 1 July 2007 (Three Part Invention). DDD
DOYEN DOYCD238 [62:07]
Experience Classicsonline


Every year five test pieces are played by the competing bands in the annual round of Regional Brass Band Championships. If there is one thing that is virtually guaranteed for specialist brass band label Doyen, it is that its year on year release of the five pieces will be one of its most successful CDs of the year in terms of sales.
 
Every competitive band in the country is eager to gain a regional qualification spot for the finals of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain later in the year. It is a sure bet that bandsmen and women up and down the country will be keen to hear what is in store for them as rehearsals for the March “regionals” begin in earnest following the customary Christmas sabbatical.
 
A quick glance at the website of Doyen’s parent company, World of Brass, confirms that for some time after its release, this year’s Regionals 2008 topped its sales chart both in terms of the CD itself as well as downloads from the recently launched World of Brass download site.
 
A good part of the attraction is the opportunity to hear the pieces played (including those for the lower sections) by bands of world class repute. This year is no exception with politically correct three nation representatives from England, Wales and Scotland in the form of Black Dyke, Cory and Whitburn respectively.
 
The Championship Section work, Eric Ball’s Festival Music, was written as the test piece for the National Championship Finals in 1956. For a Salvationist composer whose somewhat backward-looking language was generally steeped in Elgar, it is Mozart that Ball here turned to for his inspiration, in what was the bicentennial year of Mozart’s birth. Cast in three movements, Overture, Romance and Impromptu, the work is not entirely pastiche, still retaining Ball’s trademark Elgarian harmonic palette. In keeping with Ball’s almost legendary skill in scoring for band, the work is beautifully crafted. Over fifty years after its composition it will still prove a stern test to bands in its expressive and musical demands, despite its oddly quaint aura. Black Dyke here gives a characterful reading that emphasises the exceptional quality of the band’s soloists.     
 
Outside the world of brass bands Gilbert Vinter was closely linked with the BBC, where he was employed as a conductor with the BBC Light Orchestra for many years. Throughout this period he wrote a steady stream of works for brass band including numerous test pieces as well as a number of appealing, shorter concert pieces. James Cook – Circumnavigator was the last of his pieces for band, written in celebration of the Captain Cook Bicentenary and completed just months before his death. Of all Vinter’s major band works this is arguably his most overtly pictorial in its imaginative, seafaring scene painting. Robert Childs and the Cory Band are certainly the masters of the seas in the excellent performance committed to disc here. As a work for First Section bands, James Cook could well prove to be a very tough proposition indeed. The piece is still capable of testing bands at the very highest level.
 
Like Eric Ball, Kenneth Downie is a composer whose roots lie within the Salvation Army. Also like Ball, his “traditional” language has broad appeal within the brass band movement. His output includes a large amount of devotional music in addition to his expanding catalogue for brass band. In comparison to several of Downie’s recent major works for band including St. Magnus, Visions of Gerontius and The Promised Land, Three Part Invention is a somewhat quirky, light-hearted affair. It should prove to be an enjoyable test to prepare for the Second Section bands involved, albeit with relatively little for the respective band’s solo instrumentalists to get their teeth into. Duncan Beckley and Whitburn Band capture the spirit of the music well, in particular the affecting central Romance that is very much the heart of the work.
 
Paul Lovatt-Cooper is a member of the Black Dyke percussion section, as well as being a composer with a fast growing reputation in the brass band world. The Dark Side of the Moon is the only work amongst this year’s regional test pieces that was not written specifically for contest performance. It draws heavily on the influence of film music, notably John Williams, with melodies that recollect the big tunes from scores such as Jurassic Park frequently coming to the fore. The big-boned style of the piece will appeal to the Third Section bands preparing it. This could well be the first of other Lovatt-Cooper scores to appear in contest performance in the near future. Appropriately it is the composer’s own band, Black Dyke that gives the stirring performance here.   
 
Commissioned from Rodney Newton specifically for this year’s Regional Fourth Section contests, Four Cities Symphony paints musical impressions of London, Paris, Rome and Moscow. Its “bespoke” approach has enabled the composer to create a piece that effectively tests the basics of intonation, ensemble and musicality in a way that should give the competing bands plenty to think about as well as enjoy. Newton is a composer capable of producing music of far greater sophistication than this, although writing for bands at this level of ability is an art that not all possess by any means. Cory and Robert Childs enjoy a close working relationship with Rodney Newton and the competing bands should learn much from listening to the stylistic elements of Cory’s recording.
 
If there is a disconcerting element to this recording it is the stark contrast between the acoustic qualities of the various recording venues. It would be a task beyond practicality to bring the various bands together in one venue although it must be said that the option remains to record just one band, in one venue playing all of the pieces. The most startling contrast is between Black Dyke, in the acoustically spacious surroundings of Morley Town Hall and Cory, whose bright opening bars of James Cook – Circumnavigator will have many reaching for the remote in shock immediately after the distant strains of Festival Music.
 
It will not however dampen the enthusiasm of the many brass players nationwide that will be keen to hear the five top-drawer performances of the “regional” test pieces as their own band’s rehearsals gather momentum in the run up to the contest day.
 
Christopher Thomas
 


 


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