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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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:-
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!