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It's Not Unusual
Phillip LAWRENCE
A Slow Ride in a Static Machine [3:55]
Anblasen Fanfare [3:07]
The Wizard [5:46]
Marion [4:46]*
Bach Variations [4:38]
A Day in the Life of a Knight [11:21]
Dennis McCARTHY (arr. P. Lawrence)
Star Trek – Deep Space Nine Theme [3:24]
Les REED (arr. P. Lawrence)
It's Not Unusual [2:13]^
Cole PORTER (arr. Neslson Riddle/P. Lawrence)
I've Got You Under My Skin [3:42]*
Fritz KREISLER (arr. P. Lawrence)
Liebeslied [2:55]
Allen VIZZUTTI (arr. P. Lawrence)
Zig-Zag [1:51]#
Igor STRAVINSKY (arr. P. Lawrence)
Pastorale [3:36]
Gustav MAHLER (arr. P. Lawrence)
Urlicht from Symphony No.2, 'Resurrection' [5:54]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (arr. P. Lawrence)
Saltarello from Symphony No.4, 'Italian' [5:47]
Richard WAGNER (arr. P. Lawrence)
Siegfried’s Funeral Music from Gotterdammerung [8:04]
Alan DOWNY (arr. P. Lawrence)
Give it One [3:46]%
Rod Franks (flugel horn)*, Lisa Sarasini, Paul Coupe and Kevin Wilson (trombones)^, Richard Marshall (cornet)# , Margaret McDonald (mezzo soprano)+, Jamie Prophet (soprano cornet)+, Louise Thompson (harp)+, Derek Watkins (trumpet and flugel horn)%, The Fairey Band/Frank Renton.
rec. 9-10 June 2007, Bramhall High School; 28 September 2007, Elms Studio, London. DDD
DOYEN DOYCD237 [76:20]
Experience Classicsonline


The album cover of this new Doyen release is very busy. So is a lot of the music on this disc, which celebrates Phillip Lawrence’s work as a composer and arranger for brass band. As anyone who knows much of Lawrence's output would expect, it is incredibly - and at times frustratingly - eclectic.
 
The majority of the tracks are arrangements and, for the most part, they are quite successful. The classical mainstream is well represented. There is a decent arrangement of the finale of Mendelssohn's Italian symphony and a well scored arrangement of material from Götterdämmerung, which is marred in performance here by some nasty cornet fluffs above the stave just after the four minute mark.
 
Kreisler's Liebeslied (misspelled as "Leibesleid" throughout the booklet) comes off nicely, as Lawrence shifts the theme from section to section of the band and Renton maintains a firm waltz pulse.
 
I have mixed feelings about the arrangement of the Urlicht movement from Mahler's second symphony. Mahler's original scoring is so striking in its colours that the shift to a brass band inevitably loses something. Nevertheless, Lawrence blends brass sonorities skillfully to create a fitting atmosphere. Margaret McDonald's voice has warmth in its lower and middle range, but this does not quite extend to the upper reaches of her range.
 
The real gem of the classical arrangements is Lawrence's beautiful rendering of Stravinsky's Pastorale, a Rimsky-esque idyll which Stokowski arranged for orchestra but may otherwise be unknown to most listeners.
 
In a nod to Lawrence’s parallel career as a composer for the screen, the album opens with an impressive arrangement of the theme to Star Trek, Deep Space Nine that plays up its relationship to Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. It makes a nice curtain raiser.
 
There are two song arrangements. A trio of trombones replaces the irreplaceable Tom Jones in a colourful and enjoyable arrangement of It’s not Unusual. This works quite well, though the second trombone plays his solo behind the beat, and some of the ensemble playing is choppy. The second song arrangement is better, both as an arrangement and as a performance, as Lawrence tracks closely Nelson Riddle’s arrangement for Sinatra of Cole Porter’s classic I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Band and flugel soloist Rod Franks swing this number well.
 
The final two arrangements are of Zig-Zag by jazz-fusion trumpeter Allen Vizzutti and Give It One, a number written for Maynard Ferguson. Both arrangements have potential, but are let down in performance. Zig-Zag is rhythmically messy here and Richard Marshall’s playing is uncharacteristically untidy. While Derek Watkins is on top of the notes in Give It One, he is a touch tentative as a scream trumpeter and the band cannot quite find the drive to maintain the hard swing required to make this number work.
 
Just as his arrangements cross genres, Lawrence's own compositions range from traditional brass band fare to pieces reflecting various jazz and classical influences.
 
A Slow Ride in a Static Machine takes its title from John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine and as with Adams’ piece it is built on motivic fragments. There the similarities end. Lawrence’s piece is in essence a cheeky tone poem depicting a traffic jam, complete with blasts of car horns, sirens and other traffic noise woven around and scratched across a repeated fragment of quirky tune, which sticks in your head for hours afterwards. It is a clever piece and I confess that I quite like it, but it is twice as long as it needs to be and is not a piece that I would want to listen to frequently. It is quite distant from the traditional brass band sound world, which is perhaps why it so irritated my wife, who loves brass bands and has been around them all her life. She also disliked Zig-Zag for similar reasons.
 
Lawrence’s Anblasen Fanfare is closer in feel to mainstream brass band fare and is a really effective piece, pitting parts of the band against each other in a fanfare combat of sorts. This would be a great concert opener and is well played by the Fairey Band.
 
Marion is a tender piece written in memory of a friend which weaves The Last Post around a touching melody. Rod Franks and offstage cornet Mike Eccles play their solos with sensitivity.
 
The Wizard is a fairly traditional sounding march. Lawrence writes in the booklet notes that he was aiming for an Elgarian or Waltonian slow second subject between the vigorous march sections, but his slow and noble theme sounds more like the theme to Star Trek – The Next Generation. There is some attractive traditional brass band writing in A Day in the Life of a Knight too, with martial music and a glowing love theme. The piece has repeated brass figurations that remind me of Gregson's classic test piece, The Plantagenets, though Gregson’s piece is more tightly constructed.
 
Bach Variations is a teaser. This is only the first of three movements of a new test piece written by Lawrence. It is attractively scored and focused on pure sonorities. It sounds wonderful and my only complaint in respect of this piece is that the other two movements were not included on this album.
 
Once you get past the busy cover art, which is in tune with Lawrence's busy music, the glossy booklet looks very nice. That is, until you start reading it. The very first page is crowned by an imposing heading: "Frenk Renton speaks...". Frenk Renton? Did anyone proof-read this? Apparently not. That first misspelling is a harbinger of worse to come. The booklet's text, which is quite detailed and otherwise both interesting and helpful, is riddled with grammatical, factual and typographical errors, and changes voice from third to first person and back again without warning or reason. Who approved this?
 
Putting complaints about presentation aside, there is a lot to admire on this album, both in the playing of the Fairey Band and in Lawrence's music. That said, there is also a lot on this album. An hour and a quarter of Lawrence’s restless music can be too much of a good thing. This disc would be better if it contained less music that had been more thoroughly rehearsed before the recording.
 
Tim Perry
 


 


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