British Music for Concert Band
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
First Suite in E flat for military band (1909) [10:02]
Second Suite in F for military band (1911) [12:13]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
English Folk Song Suite (1924) [11:17]
Sea Songs (March) (1924) [3:41]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
A Lincolnshire Posy [16:51]
Molly on the Shore [3:41]
Irish Tune from County Derry [4:06]
Children’s March: Over the Hills and Far Away [6:47]
Country Gardens [2:00]
The Central Band of the Royal Air Force/Wing Commander Eric Banks
rec. no details given
REGIS RRC 1326 [71:30]

Band music is not usually my métier but I’m more than happy to make an exception here because this disc contains several masterpieces of the genre and, it could be argued, some of the finest examples of composers making use of folksongs in concert music.

The two suites by Holst and the one by his great friend Vaughan Williams are all fashioned and scored with great skill and make for rewarding and highly enjoyable listening. Both composers interleave the folk songs most imaginatively and the music is extremely attractive. It helps when the music is performed with zest and assurance, which is certainly the case here. The playing of the RAF musicians is sonorous at times – as in the excellent Chaconne that opens Holst’s First Suite – and at other times is crisp and pointed – a good example being the March at the start of RVW’s suite. In fact, the precision of their playing here and throughout the programme is pretty marvellous.

But much though I enjoy the works by Holst and Vaughan Williams, the finest and most inventive music on this disc is surely contained in A Lincolnshire Posy. In the six movements of this work Grainger takes the art of folksong-influenced composition to a different and much higher level. Where Holst and Vaughan Williams produce arrangements – albeit superb ones - of folksongs, Grainger takes these traditional tunes and uses them as the bases for flights of fancy. His inventiveness is a constant source of delight and, to be honest, while I may have heard performances as good as this present one I can’t recall one that’s surpassed it – and I’m not overlooking the excellent recordings by Frederick Fennell.

In the booklet the conductor refers to an inscribed photo of Grainger, presented to the RAF Band when he visited them in 1948. The inscription is “To the superb Central Band of the Royal Air Force with warm thanks for their magnificent rendering of my music. Admiringly, Percy Grainger, Sept 1948.” I feel sure that if Grainger had been able to hear this present performance of A Lincolnshire Posy – and, indeed, of the shorter works in the programme - he would be just as admiring and grateful.

I don’t know when these recordings were made but they were engineered by Brian Culverhouse and are as fine, detailed and present as you would expect from him. They sound fresh and vital in this Regis reissue and, to be honest, this splendidly performed and hugely enjoyable disc is self-recommending – and not just to band music devotees.

John Quinn

This splendidly performed and hugely enjoyable disc is self-recommending – and not just to band music devotees.