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
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
2012/1 DL Roundup) and Boult conducts Holst (Lyrita SRCD.222
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
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) (reviewreview).
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
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.