The Music of Stephen Roberts
Black Dyke Band/Prof. Nicholas J. Childs
rec. Morley Town Hall in October and November, 2015 DOYEN DOYCD358 [65:05]
Cory Band/Philip Harper
rec. by World of Sound, Parc Hall, Cwm Parc, 28, 29 November 2015 DOYEN DOYCD359 [78:41]
While pairing these discs for review might seem a bit of a face-off, it’s more to do with complementarity than competition. Neither band is stranger to a stoush, of course, but now the rivalry is for the buyer’s ear, and being on the same label rather levels the playing field. There are no common selections between them and so, all else being equal, it’s more about preference for the chosen programmes - that is, if you feel you need to make a choice.
Both bands are rich in history and highly decorated, which they make no bones about in their respective liner notes. The Black Dyke Band can lay claim to the greater number of accolades, but the Cory Band has also triumphed many times at the highest level. So, if you’ll excuse the pun, how does it all play out?
The Black Dyke Band’s concert consists of arrangements and original works by Stephen Roberts, a renowned performer and composer on the British brass band scene. The first and last tracks are competition test pieces - skilfully condensed arrangements of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. In between are pieces drawn from traditional and movie sources, a Gypsy-inspired song by Yugoslav composer Goran Bregović, and two of Roberts’ own works – a march, and an extract from his Malvern Chase Suite. With impeccable solos nicely interspersed, it’s a beautifully balanced programme and makes for a great listen. The band shows all the flair, finesse and precision that’s won it many championships, but therein lies a tiny reservation; it’s not playing for the judges this time, and one senses too much care at the expense of spontaneity. On these occasions, perhaps, they should forget the risk, relax, and just let rip!
It’s on this last point that the Cory Band sounds more comfortable in its own skin. While not quite having the Black Dyke’s razor edge, the playing feels more unzipped, with a greater sense of fun. Its concert is something of a potpourri, and for me doesn’t get off to the best start. The opening piece and title track, Elemental, composed by its Musical Director Philip Harper, rather startles one with a melodramatic narration after the first few bars which apparently explains its meaning - quite why, I don’t know; it’s an effective piece and the music should be left to say it all. Thankfully, nothing similar disturbs the rest of the concert. The substance of this theme is explained in the liner notes, for those who care to read them, as it seemingly connects the whole programme; but spare me the home-spun philosophy, please, I just came for the music. Which, I’m delighted to say, is first rate; it’s a nicely varied mix of ‘classics’ such as the Suppé, Berlioz, Leoncavallo and Sullivan arrangements, lighter pieces, some new compositions, and other old favourites. As already indicated, the band and its soloists play it all splendidly.
The recorded sound for the Black Dyke Band is smoother than that for the Cory Band, where some glare is apparent in the upper registers. I suggest this is largely due to differences in the recording venues, respectively the Morley Town Hall and the Parc Hall, Cwm Parc. Both sound pretty good, actually, but one can’t help comparing productions such as these with the soundtrack for Brassed Off, where those Grimethorpe Colliery Band tracks put down at Abbey Road have all but set the sonic benchmark for brass band recording. Oh, how I’d love to hear the Black Dyke and Cory bands occupying those chairs for these concerts!
So there you have it: two crack bands at the top of their game, delivering rich and varied programmes for your delight. While I’m personally inclined to skip the Cory Band’s first track, that still leaves 9 minutes more than offered by the Black Dyke Band. If you really love this music, and have no partisan interests, there is no recommendation other than to get them both.
Des Hutchinson Track Listing Arabian Nights Stephen ROBERTS
1.Arabian Nights [14.53] TRAD; Arr Stephen ROBERTS
2.The Lark in the Clear Air [5.33]
Hans ZIMMER; Arr Stephen ROBERTS
3. Wheel of Fortune [4.24] Stephen ROBERTS
4. Valiant & True [4.11] TRAD; Arr Stephen ROBERTS
5. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot [3.51] TRAD; Arr Stephen ROBERTS
6. The Water is Wide [5.17]
Goran BREGOVIĆ; arr. Stephen ROBERTS
7. Soferska [2.57] Stephen ROBERTS
8. Chorale & Fanfares [5.07]
9. Reflections on Swan Lake [18.07]
Elemental Philip HARPER
1.Elemental [4.31] Franz von SUPPÉ; arr George HAWKINS
2. Poet and Peasant [10.17] Ruggero LEONCAVALLO; arr Ray FARR
3. On With the Motley [3.24]
Jan VAN DER ROOST
4. Canterbury Chorale [6.11] Kenny YOUNG & Arthur RESNICK; arr. Philip HARPER
5. Under the Boardwalk [2.45] Ernesto LECUONA; arr Mark FREEH
6. Malagueña [2.37] Philip HARPER
7. Fuego! [4.01] Christopher BOND
8. Aristotle's Air [4.23] Arthur SULLIVAN; arr. Sir Malcolm SARGENT
9. The Yeoman of the Guard [5.22] Philip HARPER
10. In Gardens of Peace [5.47] AlexanderCOMITAS
11. Festive Dance from Mindia [3.13] John HARTMANN; arr. Dan PRICE
12. Rule Britannia [5.54] Lewis FURBER
13. English Counterpoint [5.07] TRAD; arr Stephen ROBERTS
14. Carrickfergus [3.44] Hoagy CARMICHAEL; arr Bill GELDARD
15. Stardust [4.04] Hector BERLIOZ; arr. Philip HARPER
16. The Brigands' Orgy [7.11]