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Grimethorpe Colliery Band – Hymns
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS For All The Saints [3:42]
Kenneth DOWNIE In Perfect Peace [3:49]
Loys BOURGEOIS Old Hundredth [4:07]
Hubert PARRY Dear Lord and Father [4:44]
William HIMES Ellacombe [2:59]; St. Francis [4:11]
arr. Kenneth DOWNIE Lord of All Hopefulness [4:00]
Robert SAINT Gesford [3:40]
Jessie Seymour IRVINE Crimond [3:45]
John GOSS Praise, My Soul [2:11]
Robert REDHEAD Reflections in Nature [3:57]
Martin NYSTROM As The Deer [2:33]
John Bacchus DYKES Nicaea [4:57]
Thomas RIVE Colne [2:22]
Graham KENDRICK Shine, Jesus Shine [2:23]
Ronald TREMAIN How Sweet The Name [2:11]
arr. HIMES Amazing Grace [3:36]
Nicholas BRODSZKY I’ll Walk With God [4:13]
Clement Cotterill SCHOLEFIELD St Clements [3:56]
Some of the above arranged by Goff Richards, William Himes, Peter Graham, Michael Babb, Jim Wright, Donald Osgood, and others
Grimethorpe Colliery Band/Phillip McCann
rec. St. Pauls, Huddersfield University, 9-10 February 2008
EGON SFZ 141 [68:37]
Experience Classicsonline

Let’s start with the positive things about this recording. The Grimethorpe Colliery Band, for any who don’t know, is one of the finest brass bands in the world. Their sound is glorious, and their technique is astonishing. This disc takes as its starting point an appealing idea – professional-level performances of arrangements of old hymns, many deriving from the Salvation Army tradition. Many of these melodies are among the most enduring of the entire Western musical repertoire, familiar to and loved by many millions around the world. What’s the problem with hearing them performed this way?

As it turns out, there are several. The form of a hymn is based on repetition of the same music with different lyrics on each repetition. Without anyone singing the words, the musical interest has to be maintained through other means. The melody needs to remain primarily intact, which limits the chords the arranger can use. The homogenous sound of a brass band, usually one of the strengths of the ensemble, is a bit of a limitation here, as the program gathers a feeling of monotony as it goes on. The limited percussion is either completely absent or very sparing on about half of the tracks – which is wise, as they wouldn’t work in the more gentle arrangements – but it’s a color that we therefore miss. All of the tracks are between two and five minutes duration, adding to the feeling of sameness that sets in.

All of which is not to say that there aren’t pleasures to be had here. The Vaughan Williams which starts the disc is among the better arrangements, and has the most flashy technique of the lot. Downie’s arrangement of "Lord of All Hopefulness" (also known as "Slane" or "Be Thou My Vision") is probably the most musical arrangement on the disc, balancing full melodic statements with original passages which fragment the melody in intriguing and fresh ways; I repeated this track immediately. And there is consistent pleasure in simply hearing the band play, and in hearing these wonderful melodies. Two tracks, however, need to be singled out for standing well below the rest of the pack: "As The Deer" and "Shine Jesus Shine" are both pop music fodder that go nowhere. A non-musical note: the booklet notes are very good, and include text excerpts which will prove valuable to those familiar with the melodies.

Listened to in small doses, or even as part of a program of worship, this could be quite effective, but as a whole, it doesn’t seem to be the best place for the brass band neophyte to start. Again, this is an excellently performed disc, and there are certainly those who will love it, but others should proceed with caution.

Benn Martin


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