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Barry Kilpatrick
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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

No lover of brass band music can possibly afford to miss this. Though it was as an orchestral violinist that Philip Wilby built his early career, he is now one of the UK’s best known composers of brass band music, his Paganini Variations among the great band showpieces. It uses the Paganini theme that has given rise to so many variations over the years, the brass band world now offered Wilby’s version as a  supreme challenge. Composed in 1991, you can hear Benjamin Britten in the music and at times a Walton swagger, while there is ample scope to display the creamy quality of brass instruments in solo passages. The other major scores, Cyrano, which features solo tuba, and the Euphonium Concertoboth call for feats of technical brilliance, and require soloist of remarkable skills. The disc also contains two of his most recent compositions—a fragment from the large-scale A Bronte Mass based on the famous literary family, and the Symphonic Variations on Amazing Grace, both from 2007, the latter to celebrate the anniversary of William Wilberforce and his role in the abolition of slavery. The Black Dyke Band dates back around 150 years to the days when talented employees of a Yorkshire woollen mill formed a band. Now one of the nation’s most famous ensembles, its professional musicians still retain that feel of a ‘local’ band when entering the major competitions that form a virile part of the UK’s musical life. Just how remarkable the standard of the band is—and they are certainly not alone in the UK—comes with Joseph Cook’s extraordinary dexterity in Cyrano, and multi-award winning euphonium of David Thornton who runs through the whole gamut of ‘tricks of the trade’ in a scintillating account of the concerto.

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