American Record Guide
, July 2009
My spotty knowledge of the English brass band scene makes me wonder about the fact that composer Philip Wilby (b 1949) was once a violinist in the National Youth Brass Band. A violinist in a brass band—what a concept! Later he joined the Covent Garden and Birmingham orchestras, and then he became composition professor at the University of Leeds. But he continued to composed for bands and competitions.
‘A Breathless Alleluia’ (2008) is a terrific opener and an example of the kind of ensemble precision a virtuoso band like Black Dyke Mills can pull off. ‘Paganini Variations’ (1991) is Wilby’s turn to show that there is no end to the creative possibilities offered by Caprice 24. Much of the work is hushed, but the ending is spectacular.
Philip Gault is baritone soloist (and Wilby the organist augmenting the brass band) in three works. ‘If God Survives Us, Will His Kingdom Come?’ (1995, from poet Mark Jarman’s Unholy Sonnets) and a fragment from A Bronte Mass (2007) are appropriately quiet. ‘Amazing Grace Variations’ (2006) runs the gamut from hushed to celebratory.
Cyrano (2008) is a two-movement vehicle for tuba soloist Joseph Cook to show his crisp triple-tonguing and fleet fingers. In II, ‘Panache’, Wilby has a go at another famous subject of variations, La Folia. The album ends with Wilby’s Euphonium Concerto (1995), a dazzling show of technical skill by soloist David Thornton. Through it all, the renowned Black Dyke Band sounds superb.