English Wind Band Classics
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) Suite No. 1 [9:55]; Suite No. 2 [10:57]; Hammersmith [13:50]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) English Folksong Suite [10:30]; Toccata Marziale [4:41]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984) William Byrd Suite for Symphonic Band [18:32]
William WALTON (1902-1983) Crown Imperial [9:50]
Eastman Wind Ensemble/Frederick Fennell
rec. 1955-59. ADD
BEULAH 1PD82 [77:18]
These are old friends which at various times over the last half century have been issued by Mercury, Fontana and Philips (6747 177). Frederick Fennell (1914- 2004) was the doyen of the windband movement and these recordings are emblematic of the best performance and recording practice in the 1950s and for many years after. They will put even the finest hi-fi through its paces whether in the thunder and crump of the percussion, the suede and velvet croon of the horns or the saw-toothed bite of the finale of the Holst Second Suite. Fennell keeps the pressure on the tempo throughout but is also partial to the evolutionary bloom of the middle movement. In the penultimate movement Fennell's open-mindedness shows through in the joyous use of the anvil to adumbrate the rhythm. Mistily impressionistic, Hammersmith is a tone poem in textures, adventurously probed Ivesian tonality and atmosphere. It has more in common with Holst's orchestral Egdon Heath than with the suites. The perky irrepressible Folksong Suite by Holst's friend RVW takes us back to the bustle and poetic language of Holst suites. The Toccata Marziale is from the 1930s yet is reminiscent of the London Symphony and at times of the Fifth Symphony. The last time I heard this was back in 1977 when RCA included it in an RVW brass band collection with one of the Japanese military band ensembles.
The Jacob Byrd Suite is conspicuously antiquarian reaching towards the language of Warlock's Capriol, Moeran's Serenade and Whythorne's Shadow and the Farnaby Improvisations by Rubbra. Much of the writing is delicate and subtle though not in the advanced mode of Hammersmith. This is music consciously grounded in the Tudor era and the great composers of those times. A little of this goes a long way with me despite Jacob's artisan skills in recreating that era. I would have happily traded it for Fennell’s EWE Grainger Hillsong No. 2 recorded at the same sessions.
Crown Imperial by Walton is the most resplendent of marches. There's no doubt it benefits from the sweep of the strings and harp but Fennell makes us forget most of the time. He is attentive in shaping the subdued introduction. The placid nobilmente of the central section makes way with a truly thunderous drum-thwack for the return of the quick march in all its sharply etched regal power. This is a grand version. There's even an organ in the last few minutes in which pride and swagger trumps victory. The higher woodwind instrument fly up and down the scale in swallow-tailed flight and the exuberance that comes with mastery. The final bars sport anvil and gong. If you develop a longing for the orchestral original then don’t pass up Frémaux’s EMI Classics CD.
The EWE were a crack outfit and no mistake. All credit to Beulah and Barry Coward for not cutting away the final hushed analogue resonance.
This is a mandatory purchase for nostalgics but has much to say to new listeners as well. Hammersmith, Crown Imperial and the Jacob suite are in stereo.
The penalty you pay for some truly splendid recordings and performances is a bed of even-toned analogue hiss - noticeable in the silences between and introducing tracks. A small price to pay for magnificent playing and lasting technological excellence.
Magnificent playing and lasting technological excellence ... see Full Review