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Norwegian Brass Band Championships - 2007

CD1
John McCabe
Cloudcatcher Fells (1985) [15.22]

Stavanger Brass Band/Allan Withington
James Curnow
Trittico [14.04]

Kopervik Musikkorps/John Philip Hannevik
Ray Steadman-Allen
The Lord is King [16.00]

Jølster Musikklag//Arvid Anthun
Idar Torskangerpoll
A Breathless Gnu Kiss! [10.27]

Langhus Brass/Idar Torskangerpoll
Philip Wilby
Revelation (1995) [15.41]

Oslo Brass Band/Frode Amundsen
CD2
Johan Evenepoel
Ginnungagap [20.38]

Krohnengen Brass Band/Selmer Simonsen
Bramwell Tovey
Coventry Variations [13.19]

Tertnes Amatorkorps/Tormod Elaten
Alan Fernie
Gothic Dances [12.58]

Kjolsdalen Musikklag/Arvid Anthun
Philip Sparke
Land of the Long White Cloud (1979) [12.50]

Musikkorpset Gjallarhorn/Espen Westbye
Peter Graham
Journey to the Centre of the Earth [20.17]

Jaren Hornmusikkforening/Helge Haukas

rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, 9-10 February 2007.

DOYEN DOYCD216 [71:23 + 73.31]


My first and last word on this CD is simply this: it is almost impossible to review. Let me explain. There is nothing wrong with the playing - in fact it is superb in virtually all of the ten pieces presented here. The sound quality is great and allows the listener to enjoy these fine award-winning brass bands at their best. As for the programme it certainly seems to be diverse and interesting. It includes pieces by the masters of the British brass band world along with the works of other composers. And here lies the problem. The sleeve-notes, liner-notes - call them what you will - are worse than useless. They contain no information on the pieces of music or their composers: no composition dates are given or details of first performances. There are no descriptive notes or even hints as to what the works are about or what inspired them. 

There is only one work that I know on this double CD set - and that is John McCabe's stunningly effective Cloudcatcher Fells. The rest is a mystery to me. Even a brief 'google' did not help. I was ‘virtually’ unable to find anything helpful on eight out of ten of the pieces on this disc. 

It could be argued that good music does not need 'programme notes:' it should be self explanatory - I disagree. It may be OK for pot-boilers - Strauss Waltzes for example. But for anything else some point of reference is essential. What is the composer's date of birth (and death) and nationality? When was the piece composed? Who is it dedicated to? When was it first performed? What are the formal characteristics of the work? What is the instrumentation? What are, if any, the literary allusions of the title?  Is it fast, or slow: stylistically does it nod to Stravinsky or Sullivan or Andrew Lloyd Webber? I have almost nothing to go on. Anything I guess at would surely prove me wrong! 

Furthermore I do not think that an ‘interested’ listener should be expected to spend hours on the internet searching for information. Only if they wish to write a learned study of the piece should it be necessary to invoke the panoply of Grove, The Musical Times and yes, MusicWeb!

I guess that if I were an aficionado of brass bands I would have a number of sources to hand for helping frame a review. My interest is in British ‘Classical’ Music and I have a considerable archive – both on the computer and hard copies of information that helps me write about music. I lack this for the brass band world. The producers of CDs ought to be encouraging listeners in this genre which is so important in the UK and also in Norway and not just assuming that only cognoscenti will buy their CDs. 

So what do we have here? I mentioned John McCabe’s great tone poem of the Lake District. This is to my limited knowledge of the brass band one of the masterpieces of the genre.

I was taken with James Curnow’s fourteen minute work Trittico. However Ray Steadman Allen’s The Lord is King is absolutely beautiful and deserves to be a regular test piece. Much more modern in sound is Idar Torskangerpoll A Breathless Gnu Kiss whatever that may be about! It is an impressive sounding piece but to me it does tend to lack a bit if substance. However, I do not see it going down well on Broadstairs or Blackpool Promenade on a summer Sunday!

I did manage to find out that Philip Wilby’s Revelation was written in 1995 for the British Open Championships. But I am unsure as to what is being revealed! However it is manifestly a great and complex work that exploits both brass and percussion to the limits. 

Ginnungagap – Seeming Emptiness by Johan Evenepoel begins in a bold style that seems to belie at least a part of the title. Yet this work is good – it seems to me to be a good blend of ‘modern’ brass writing along with one or two nods to more traditional sources. But who is the composer? And what else does/did he write? 

I would have guessed that the Coventry Variations by Bramwell Tovey may have been to do with the war- it may be. But the obvious - once you hear the music! - answer is that it is an attractive meditation on the Coventry Carol! Yet this is no trite piece: no simplistic arrangement or adaptation of the theme. Even the non-brass playing listener can tell that this work requires skill and more to the point perfect balance of the parts. This is my favourite work on these CDs. 

Gothic Dances by Alan Fernie seem to inhabit a more idealised English landscape- at least some of the time. Some of this music is manifestly laid back or even pastoral – but then there appears almost ‘Star Wars’ like fanfares to act as a foil. The work ends in a blaze of sound. Yet to me this is one of the weaker pieces on these CDs.

Philip Sparke’s Land of the Long White Cloud could be about anything – presumably to do with New Zealand.  The opening bars certainly have a suggestion of Spitfires and Hurricanes and Bill Walton! This was in fact the composer's earliest work for brass band.  It is a very enjoyable piece indeed.

Is Peter Graham the Czech composer or someone else? There is only one such name in Grove!  Whoever he is, his offering is the immensely attractive Journey to the Centre of the Earth. It is based on Jules Verne’s book – and I have found a description on the Musicprint Web Site!

“Peter Graham has taken some of the key scenes from the book and set them as a sequence of symphonic extracts. The subtitles are; (I) Snæfells, (II) Descent, (III) The Wonders of the Terrestrial Depths, (IV) The Day of Rest, (V) Lost in the Labyrinth, (VI) The Whispering Gallery, (VII) Rescue from the Abyss, (VIII) Battle of the Antediluvian Creatures and Ascent, (IX) Homecoming.” But lookout for the allusion to “Oh what a beautiful morning!” by Rogers and Hammerstein!

Altogether, a great CD! I enjoyed virtually all the works presented here. Yet how much more would the pleasure have been if I knew just a little more about the programme. So, I hope that the next Doyen issue will at least remember the words of England’s great but often vilified poet Rudyard Kipling:- 

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who. 

It will make listening to their records more enjoyable and vitally, more profitable to the listener.

One last point. Why does Arvid Anthun conduct two bands in what is meant to be a competition? Perhaps it is because they are in different divisions. It would be like Sir Alec managing Accrington Stanley as well as Man. U! 

John France

 

 

 


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