Black Castles Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) (arr. Dudley Bright) Severn Suite, Op.87 (1930) [17:33] Arthur BUTTERWORTH (b. 1923) Triton Suite, Op.46 (1972) [11:44] Derek BOURGEOIS (b. 1941) William and Mary, Op.106 (1981) [17:48] Sir John TAVENER (b. 1944) Trisagion (1981) [14:21] John PICKARD (b. 1963) Black Castles (2002) [10:59] Mark-Anthony TURNAGE (b. 1960) Set To (1992-1993) [7:40]
rec. July 2003, Furuby Church, Sweden. DDD BIS CD1354 [81:36]
German brass ensemble, brass partout, has been putting
together an interesting series of albums for BIS. After a disc
music and another focusing on the Russians, they turn now
to British music.
The disc opens with Elgar's Severn Suite, originally composed
for brass band but heard here in an arrangement for brass
ensemble by composer and principal trombonist of the London
Symphony Orchestra, Dudley Bright. This performance is a
very good one, but falls short of greatness due to a certain
blandness of expression. The introduction that depicts Worcester
Castle is fleet and light on its feet, but does not live
up to Elgar's marking of "pomposo". A weightier
tread is needed. The gentle, almost pastoral grandeur evoked
in the fugue depicting Worcester Cathedral is fitting,
but the minuet for the Commandery is similarly soft-grained.
The toccata for The Tournament could do with more
The two pieces I most enjoyed on this album were Arthur Butterworth's Triton
Suite and William and Mary by Derek Bourgeois.
Both are entertaining, individual and very well played
but strikingly different in their musical language.
The Triton Suite is a tightly wrought and atmospheric work,
economically and transparently scored for a septet of three
trumpets, three trombones and tuba. Its first movement opens
with fanfares and builds through sweet dissonances, bringing
to mind the dangerous pageantry of the joust. The following vivace has
a hint of Malcolm Arnold jauntiness to it, though the idiom
is very definitely Butterworth's. The adagio, with
muted brass and fine dissonances, is broodingly ominous.
The final allegretto has a nice thrust, built on an insistent
ostinato which disappears briefly for a heroic fanfare on
sweet-toned trumpets but reappears to power the music to
its close. The piece sounds like a tone poem to me, but if
there is a programme the booklet notes are assiduous in omitting
any details of it. The piece brings out the best in brass
partout - their balancing of parts is expert here.
William and Mary is softer in idiom and
likely to appeal to a broad audience, harking back to the
best of British light music. Though written to a commission
from the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, the sound-world of
the traditional brass band is never far away. It is a tone
poem in five movements which illustrate episodes in the lives
of William III and Mary II of England. The opening fanfare
has a nice swagger and the second movement, illustrating
the new monarchs' landing after passage from Holland, has
a sense of foreboding, highlighted by the high tuba writing,
which is beautifully played here. The third movement depicts
the King's Champion with a jaunty swagger to his gait.
The fourth movement, entitled The Death of Mary,exudes
a melancholy built on lush harmonies and beautifully sustained
playing. There is tragedy in the final bars as the lower
brass intone and descend. The Achievement lacks a
little in tension - a firmer pulse and sharper articulation,
especially with the changes of metre, would have made this
concluding movement more effective.
Composed in the same year as William and Mary, Sir John Tavener's Trisagion is
a very different work. It is built on patterns, with running
scales, punctuating tonally ambiguous and spiky writing in
which the upper voices, and antiphonal effects. Much of the
interest in this piece comes from the blending and contrasting
of the voices of the different brass instruments, and the
shading of dynamics. This is well handled. Originally composed
as a quintet, the parts are doubled in this performance.
The album's title track is also the most recently composed and was
commissioned from John Pickard by brass partout. From the
soft mist of sound that opens the work, through its flaring
discords, brooding close harmony and striking gestures, this
is an involving piece of dissonant tone painting that evokes
the atmosphere of Black Castles - not man made edifices
but a craggy volcanic landscape in Iceland's far north. brass
partout are in superb form here.
The closing track is well chosen. Mark-Anthony Turnage is three years
Pickard's senior and Set To, though composed just
over a decade ago, feels just as contemporary as Black
Castles. Marked as a Bacchanale, it opens with portentous
statements - vaguely reminiscent of Janáček's Sinfonietta -
but almost immediately the brass begins to growl and bray
as a jazzy syncopation begin to pierce the music's texture.
It never really whips up into the sort of frenzy to be expected
from a conventional Bacchanale, but this muscular music is
in constant motion.
The booklet notes are detailed and will give newcomers and connoisseurs
alike plenty of handles to grasp. BIS's sound quality is
very high. Sound engineer Thore Brinkmann surely deserves
some of the credit for the superb balancing of parts on this
album and the attractive bloom of the sound-picture.
This is a valuable addition to a valuable series and will, I hope,
continue to raise the profile of music for brass ensemble
within the classical mainstream. I look forward to the next
instalment in this series - America this time? I hope it
will be long-lived enough to return to the rich British brass
music repertoire soon, as I would love to hear this ensemble
tackle the works of Malcolm Arnold and Robert Simpson, among
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