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Edward GREGSON (b.1945)
The Gregson Collection: Celebrating a Life of Brass Band Composition
CD 1
March: Dalarö (1964) [3:24]
Sadness and Tenderness, from Voices of Youth (1967) [2:34]
March Prelude (1968) [3:34]
Essay for Band (1970) [12:35]
Allegro non troppo from Horn Concerto (1971) [5:00]
Partita (1972) [10:53]
Festival March: Chalk Farm No.2 (1975) [5:02]
Variations on Laudate Dominum (1976 rev 2007) [14:20]
2nd movement from Tuba Concerto (1976) [6:03]
Connotations (1977) [12:41]
CD 2
Dances and Arias (1984) [13:55]
Of Men and Mountains (1990) [17:48]
The Trumpets of the Angels (2000) [19:51]
Meditation: Before the Cross (2003) [3:39]
Battle Music and Hymn of Thanksgiving from An Age of Kings (2004) [4:57]
Rococo Variations (2008) [18:02]
Black Dyke Band/Nicholas J Childs (An Age of Kings, Dalarö, The Trumpets of the Angels, Variations on Laudate Dominum); Black Dyke Band/James Watson (Essay and Partita); Philip Cobb, Cory Band/Stephen Cobb (Before the Cross); Cory Band/Robert Childs (Of Men and Mountains); Fodens Motor Works Band/Garry Cutt (Rococo Variations); James Gourlay, Fodens Motor Works Band/Howard Snell (Tuba Concerto); Grimethorpe Colliery Band/Elgar Howarth (Connotations); Frank Lloyd (horn), Desford Colliery Caterpillar Band/Edward Gregson (Horn Concerto and Dances and Arias); Williams Fairey Band/James Gourlay (Voices of Youth, March Prelude and Chalk Farm No.2)
Recording details not given
DOYEN DOY CD252 [77:05 + 78:46]

Experience Classicsonline


If ever a life of working for and on behalf of brass bands was worth celebrating it’s that of Edward Gregson. I cannot think of a single composer who has done more to expand and enrich the repertoire of music for band than this man. True, Eric Ball wrote a lot of fine band music (Elgar was fan of his) and Gilbert Vinter created some significant pieces towards the end of his life, but it was Gregson who really dragged the band movement into contemporary composition, through a life-time of devotion to the genre. He hasn’t ignored other fields of composition. There are Concertos and orchestral works, as well as piano and chamber music, choral and symphonic wind band compositions, but the mention of Gregson’s name will, to many, bring to mind the brass band.

Born in Sunderland, he studied with Alan Bush at the Royal Academy of Music, where he won five composition prizes, including the Frederick Corder Memorial Prize for his Brass Quintet – his first significant work. When young he played in Salvation Army bands, so the sound of the band was in his ears from an early age.

This 2 CD set has been released to celebrate Gregson’s 65th birthday and takes recordings from many of the excellent issues of his work on the Doyen label, presenting them in chronological order. This is very sensible indeed, for one can hear his development as a composer and as an innovator.

Dalarö was written after Gregson attended a students’ conference in that town in Sweden and it’s a jaunty, up–beat, march. The three movement Suite, Voices of Youth was written at the same time as the prize-winning Brass Quintet and here we have the middle movement, which shows the influence of Vaughan Williams, but it’s none the worse for that. With the March Prelude we hear, for the first time, the quirkiness which can be found in so many of Gregson’s compositions, changing time signatures and a constant
restlessness. The Essay is his first major achievement for band. It’s amazing what Gregson manages to pack into his 12 minutes playing time – it should be mentioned that at this time 15 minutes was thought long enough for a band composition. Gilbert Vinter’s The Trumpets plays for three quarters of an hour, but that’s an oratorio with chorus so is somewhat different. Gregson was soon to change our perceptions of what was possible in terms of duration – and he has written a challenging piece. It’s slightly indebted to Hindemith perhaps – he has said that on becoming a student he discovered the German composer who entered his sphere of interest. There’s also an obviously English voice at work, a sort of highly powered VW! The Horn Concerto was written for Ifor James, a musician who also grew up in the band movement, who was a great supporter of contemporary music – he played, for many years, in a duo with John McCabe for whom he wrote the astonishing Goddess Trilogy which should be recorded at the earliest opportunity, for it is a masterpiece of writing for the horn – and was conductor of the Besses o’th’ Barn Brass Band. It’s a shame that we only have the first movement here for it is a strong work, and there still aren’t that many concerted works with band accompaniment, so the chance to hear the complete thing would have been most welcome. Frank Lloyd makes a very good soloist and he was a pupil of Ifor James so it’s close to a creator recording. That said, one mustn’t forget Ifor’s own recording on Chandos with the Besses o’th’ Barn Brass Band under Roy Newsome (CHAN 4526, coupled with James Gourlay playing the Tuba Concerto and James Watson playing Gordon Langford’s Rhapsody for cornet).

The Partita is based on the plainsong chant Dies Irae and the work is darker than the title might suggest. The final march is more outgoing than the previous two movements but the Dies Irae is still there, and it creates a disturbing undercurrent to what should be a happier mood. This is, surely, Gregson’s first masterpiece for brass. Chalk Farm No.2 celebrates the centenary of the birth of Alfred W Punchard who had been conductor of the Chalk Farm Band for 50 years. It’s called No.2 because the first, original, Chalk Farm March was written in 1909 – not by Gregson! Cheekily, our composer inserts bars of irregular metre as well as bongos! Its out–going, exuberant air comes as a bit of a shock after the seriousness of the Partita!

The Variations on Laudate Dominum was written for the London Citadel Band of Ontario, Canada, whose conductor from 1964 to 1978, and again from 1981 to 1995, was the composer’s brother Bramwell. It’s a straightforward set of variations and thirty years later, as a tribute to the Black Dyke Band, Gregson added two new variations; it’s this later version heard here. The work includes some nicely conceived solos, each variation is well characterised and the whole is topped off with a jubilant fugue. The Tuba Concerto was a commission from the Besses o’th’ Barn Brass Band and its then conductor Ifor James. As with the Horn Concerto we only get a movement, but this slow movement is of such grave beauty as to be able to stand alone more easily than the earlier piece.

Connotations is a more integrated set of variations, and much more of a display piece, which is what one would expect from a commission for the Royal Albert Hall final of the National Brass Band Championships. It’s a real symphonic conception, with a powerful inner logic and superb growth as the material is worked out. This proved to be Gregson’s final band composition for five years, as he turned to other areas of composition and only took on new band commissions when he felt he had something to say.

In 1984, on receipt of a commission for a test-piece for the final of the National Brass Band Championships, Gregson found that he had a lot to say and wrote Dances and Arias, a tour de force of a piece, austere in language, powerful in intent and totally compelling. Using a large percussion section – one of the many things Gregson has achieved in his band compositions is to expand the use of percussion – and with writing of the most virtuoso standard this is one of his very best, and most satisfying works. What a piece! This is true symphonic music.

Of Men and Mountains was written for the 10th Netherlands Brass Band Championships and here is another large-scale structure – exceeding the 15 minute plying time – which continues the symphonic development of material started with Dances and Arias. With these two works Gregson has reached a new maturity in his language, where his compositional technique is as virtuoso as the writing for the instruments. This work sounds to me to be a nightmare of a piece to perform, but what an effect it makes in performance! With such economy, and strength, of writing, one is left wondering why he hasn’t written a Symphony.

If Gregson had stopped writing for brass at this point he would still have been acknowledged as a master. Fortunately he didn’t, and the music just got better! For
The Trumpets of the Angels Gregson really pulls out all the stops – and that isn’t a pun brought about by the fact that this work incorporates a part for organ. He creates a vibrant scene of the seven trumpets of the seven angels at the Day of Judgement, as told in the Book of Revelation. This is an apocalyptic vision with Gregson’s wildest music and most vivid imaginings.

Before the Cross is a short piece for solo cornet, based on a hymn Gregson wrote 40 years earlier. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Gregson composed music for the Royal Shakespeare Company and from that he created two suites for wind band, and from them a shorter suite for brass. Battle Music and Hymn of Thanksgiving is the third movement from An Age of Kings and it is resplendent in rich colours and a splendid Elgarian peroration.

Rococo Variations was jointly commissioned by the British Open Championships for the 2008 contest held in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and the Norwegian Band Federation, for their National Championship in Bergen in 2009. It pays tribute to six composers who have contributed to the band repertoire, whilst never losing sight of the fact that it is a
Test-piece and, as such, must contain music of a challenging nature.

When a composer has been working in one field for some time one can easily forget the quality of his work, and take it for granted. I have the feeling that this may have happened with Gregson’s brass music so this re–issue is timely both as a birthday present from Doyen to him, and to re–awaken our attention to the quality and variety of his work. This is a splendid set, which gives a very good idea of what the composer has been doing these past 45 years and shows the development of both his style and band music. The recordings were made over a 20 year period but they all sound freshly minted and are bright and clear. If you’ve written off the brass band medium, thinking it to be a restricted genre, Gregson is the man to bring you into the fold with his colourful, sometimes challenging and always entertaining music. Happy birthday Mr Gregson, and many more, filled with music.

Bob Briggs

 

 

 

 

 


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