, January 2008
This Naxos release consists of eleven popular works in arrangements for brass band. I hope that it heralds a continuing Brass Band Classics series. Here the term ‘arrangement’ is used in its broadest sense, not differentiating between those scores that strive to stay faithful to the original in the way of a transcription and those that make freer use of the material. Eight different arrangers, mainly celebrated figures in the brass band movement, have been at work here. Notable is Alan Fernie, a Royal Academy of Music student who is represented by four separate pieces.
The compass of brass band music has been significantly augmented by this activity. In addition to original brass band works it was in the 1930s that the fashion developed for making popular works of the standard repertoire available for brass bands to play. Around the mid-twentieth-century the popularly of banding was given the strongest possible advocacy when distinguished conductors, knights, Malcolm Sargent; Adrian Boult and John Barbirolli all directed concerts of massed brass bands.
The performers here are the Black Dyke Band, formerly the Black Dyke Mills Band, under their Principal Conductor and Director of Music, Nicholas Childs. Arguably the best known brass band on the world stage the Black Dyke Band has been voted ‘Champion Band of Great Britain’ on twenty occasions as well as receiving a large number of other prestigious awards. From Queensbury, Bradford the Black Dyke Band were founded over one hundred and fifty years ago in a town where a tradition of brass band music can be traced back to 1816.
Instantly recognisable to virtually all listeners is the opening work, the magnificent Grand March from Verdi’s opera Aida. This stunning arrangement by Alan Fernie seems especially suited to the martial, fanfare-like quality of the considerable brass elements that Verdi designed in his score. Black Dyke impress and entertain and the solo passage between 2:01-2:41 is especially effective.
Brahms composed his Academic Festival Overture (1880) to thank the University of Breslau for conferring on him an honorary doctorate. The composer caused a stir amongst the University hierarchy by including several popular melodies from student drinking songs and this 1936 brass arrangement by Denis Wright highlights them to great effect.
Bizet is represented by three scores. The first is Goff Richards’s brass arrangement of Au fond du temple saint (Deep inside the sacred temple)universally known as the Pearl Fisher Duet from the 1863 opera The Pearl Fishers. I was bowled over by the beautiful rich timbre of Black Dyke’s two euphonium soloists David Thornton and John French in this splendid Pearl Fisher Duet that has been polled more than once as the nation's favourite tune.
Bizet’s 1875 opera Carmen is an acknowledged masterpiece. Here Alan Fernie has arranged five popular extracts into a well designed and contrasting suite for brass containing the essence of Spain. I especially enjoyed the confident swagger given to the portrayal of the bullfighter’s life by Black Dyke in the colourful Toreador’s Song.
Howard Lorriman has made a brass arrangement of the Farandole from the Second Suite from Bizet’s 1872 incidental music to Alphonse Daudet’s play L'arlesienne (The Woman from Arles). The Farandole, a lively traditional Provençal chain dance, is represented here by proud and effervescent music that Black Dyke develop into a thrilling and almost frenzied conclusion.
Stephen Roberts in 1996 produced an arrangement of Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity from Holst’s most popular work. The perpetually heard central melody was subsequently arranged to the words “I vow to thee, my country.” Ably supported by the impeccable quality of ensemble the arrangement sounds especially effective in its brass guise.
A perennial favourite: the ubiquitous Nimrod from Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, ‘Enigma’ (1899) is the ninth variation and a musical representation of his friend A.J. Jaeger; the publishing manager at Novello. This performance of Eric Ball’s 1983 version of this easygoing and cheerful variation sounds highly impressive with an agreeable glow.
Achieving recognition as a stand-alone work the Prelude and Fugue: The Spitfire isextracted from Walton’s 1942 film score The First of the Few. It starred Leslie Howard who also directed. This marvellously played Alan Fernie arrangement just loses too much orchestral colour from Walton’s original.
Gershwin based his folk opera Porgy and Bess (1934-35) on Porgy the novel by DuBose Heyward. This successful arrangement by Alan Fernie uses four popular songs from the opera: the brash It ain't necessarily so; the joyous I got plenty o' nuttin'; the tender and poignant Bess, you is my woman now and the uplifting hymn I'm on my way.
Prolific arranger Dutchman Klaas van der Woude has prepared for brass the Hymn to the Fallen from John Williams’s score to Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. The Hymn to the Fallen is the highlight of the score and serves as a fitting requiem to all the soldiers who gave their lives during the World War II, Normandy landings in 1944. Superbly played by Black Dyke the heart-rending arrangement is defined by the distinctive plea of the fanfare-like theme that opens the piece.
The release concludes with Tchaikovsky’s celebrated 1812 Overture (1880) in a version by Robert Childs; the brother of Nicholas Childs the conductor. The myriad moods are superbly captured in this adroit arrangement. The build-up to the powerful and triumphant conclusion is especially successful.
Throughout this exciting release the outstanding feature is the security of ensemble. The excellence of the vivid and well balanced sound from Morley Town Hall together with the helpful essay from Roy Newsome contributes to the desirability of the disc.
With the wide appeal of these popular scores and the exceptional standard of the performances from the Black Dyke Band I can see significant interest and many subsequent converts to brass band music being generated by this disc. I sincerely hope that this is the first of many volumes from Naxos of Symphonic Brass.