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British Classics
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958)
English Folk Song Suite (1923) [10:51]
Gustav HOLST (1874 – 1934)
First Suite for Military Band, Op. 28/1 (1909) [11:16]
Second Suite for Military Band, Op. 28/2 (1911) [11:36]
Percy Aldridge GRAINGER (1882 – 1961)
Lincolnshire Posy (1937) [16:09]
Ernest TOMLINSON (b. 1924)
Suite of English Folk Dances (1951, arr. composer 1999) [13:52]
Gordon LANGFORD (b. 1930)
Rhapsody for Trombone and Brass Band (1975) [12:48]
SAC Jonathan Hill (trombone)
The Central Band of the Royal Air Force/Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs
rec. RAF Music Studios, Northolt, London, 2014
CHANDOS CHAN10847 [77:07]

Heraclitus famously averred that you can’t step into the same river twice but this is not the first time that both the RAF Central Band and Chandos have stepped into these waters, albeit separately.  The Band’s earlier recordings were directed by Imogen Holst (Holst Collectors’ Edition, Warner/EMI 4404712, 6 CDs - review) and by Wing Commander Derek Banks, on budget-price Regis RRC1326 – review. The previous Chandos album, on CHAN9697, from 1998, contains most of the same music performed by the Royal Northern College of Music/Timothy Reynish.

My own benchmark for the Holst Suites, plus Hammersmith, and VW Folk Song Suite, plus Toccata Marziale, comes from the London Wind Orchestra conducted by Denis Wick on an ASV recording (Resonance CDRSN3006) available over the years on various budget-price CDs but now download only: try prestoclassical.co.uk or stream from Qobuz.  I owned that ASV recording on cassette, with a colourful cover, and again on an ASV Quicksilver CD – a much plainer cover but the colour is in the music and the performances and the recording have stood the test of time, still sounding vivid.

By contrast with Wicks, Sir Adrian Boult’s recording of the orchestral version of the English Folk Song Suite sounds a trifle staid (The Essential Vaughan Williams, Warner/EMI 2079922, 2CDs – review, or Warner/EMI 7640222, both at budget price).

Duncan Stubbs' timing for the first movement of the VW Suite is only seconds slower than Wicks’, but the effect is to make the music sound broader, less jaunty and with fewer risks taken.  The effect is not unpleasing and it does allow the three themes to be heard more clearly than I had ever noticed, where they are juxtaposed. Although it’s entitled Seventeen come Sunday, Dives and Lazarus and Pretty Caroline are in there too.  In the second movement Intermezzo, though the times are identical on paper to within a second, the new recording again sounds slightly broader and here I think that is to the advantage of the music.  In the finale, as you might expect for a march movement, the RAF band really come into their own.

I had to replay the first movement of Holst’s first suite to make sure that the timing of 5:14 in the booklet wasn’t a misprint.  Wicks takes just 3:49 and that has always seemed to me to be just right, with the pomp reserved for the concluding maestoso section.  Imogen Holst adopts a similar tempo to Wicks, at 3:59.  The new recording is too slow here although the older Chandos version is almost as slow.  I had no such reservations about the rest of the suite, however: in the finale of No.2 Stubbs is even a shade more lively than Imogen Holst and there’s very little to choose between him and Wicks.

The major omission from the new recording is Hammersmith, but, thankfully, we aren’t short of good recordings of that, including a Chandos all-Holst programme conducted by Richard Hickox in 1994 (CHAN9420 – July 2012/1 DL Roundup) and Boult conducts Holst (Lyrita SRCD.222 – review and review).  If you are looking for the band version, it’s included on the older Chandos recording, which I also listened to and enjoyed as downloaded from theclassicalshop.net in lossless sound.  It’s also available on a Mercury Living Presence recording from the Eastman Wind and Frederick Fennell (4320092 – download only or on a Presto CD) (review review).

Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy is a more than satisfactory substitute for Hammersmith, though here again there is strong competition, from the Eastman Wind Ensemble/Frederick Fennell which I reviewed some time ago (Australian Eloquence 4802089) and Chandos’ own super-budget-price introduction to their series of Grainger’s music which I made Bargain of the Month (CHAN2029).  Here again Stubbs tends to take a slightly broader view of the music than Fennell or Richard Hickox, but not unduly so.  If you have either of those other recordings, I wouldn’t favour the new Chandos as a replacement, but there’s not very much in it.

If you want Ernest Tomlinson’s attractive suite, either in the orchestral original or the wind-band version, it’s Hobson’s choice: the new Chandos it has to be.  No matter, because the performance is very enjoyable.  Nor is there too much in the way of alternatives for the jaunty Gordon Langford Rhapsody – here the main competition is from another Chandos album from the Williams Fairey Band (CHAN4543, super-budget-price).  Unless that programme attracts you, there’s no reason not to go for the new recording.

The new Chandos recording is very good, especially in 24-bit format, as downloaded from theclassicalshop.net, but needs to be played at a rather higher volume than usual – a setting of 25 rather than 21 on one of my systems.  The ASV recording is not now available with its booklet but the much fuller new Chandos booklet contains detailed and informative notes by Giles Easterbrook.  Timothy Reynish’s notes for the older Chandos are also pretty comprehensive.

My first choice for the Holst and VW suites remains with Denis Wicks, but I appreciate that not everyone is prepared to download or, indeed, to pay more for the privilege of doing so than when the recording was available on super-budget CD and when it comes without notes – a subject of major irritation to several of my colleagues and me.  Both of the Chandos recordings make good alternatives, despite my marginal reservations about both, mainly concerning tempo.  If the older recording were now to appear at a lower price, that would offset the fact that it’s not available in 24-bit sound, though the CD-quality 16-bit sounds fine.

Brian Wilson

 




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