DVD - RSA85 - A Birthday Celebration in Music8-Jul-2008
International Staff Band, Conductor Dr Stephen Cobb
International Staff Songsters, Conductor Dorothy Nancekievill
Bramwell Tovey, Piano
Susan Turner, Vocal
Derick Kane, Euphonium
SP&S Ltd: WOB 127 DVD
As the occasional shots of the audience show, the attendance at the concert arranged to mark Lt Col Ray Steadman-Allen’s 85th birthday was a little disappointing. Nevertheless, the evening was a great success, and the arrival of the DVD enables a wider audience to join in the celebrations.
The booklet incorporates notes by Julian Bright combining a description of the evening with extracts from the commemorative programme, including a pictorial montage spanning more than 50 years.
As it happens
The DVD follows the concert through as it happened, including the various tributes, some on video and some in person, commencing with the march “Silver Star”, complete with the voice-over welcoming first the International Staff band and then the International Staff Songsters with their respective leaders.
The entry of the flag of the Peacemakers Session (1948/9), of which both Ray and his wife Joy were members, was a poignant moment on the night as it was brought forward by David Lockwood of Chatham Corps and the Band of Her Majesty’s Welsh Guards. Throughout the evening there are many references to the support given to Ray by Joy and their two daughters, Barbara, an Anglican vicar, and Rosemary, who had just become a member of the ISS.
After the Staff Songsters’ rendition of Ray’s sublime setting of “O lovely name” Barbara’s prayer adds a very personal touch to the proceedings. Trevor Davis’s introductory remarks, well thought out as they were, seem all the more superfluous when viewed on DVD, but things pick up with one of the more substantial vocal items of the evening, the anthem “Blessed be the Lord my strength”.
The sensible selection of camera angles enables one to see not only the singers but also Richard Phillips in action. Richard, the pianist with the ISS when they were founded, was deputising for the current accompanist who was unavailable.
The first of the tributes is given by trombonist Dudley Bright, who refers to the support and encouragement he had received from Ray when submitting early efforts at composition to the Music Board. He also makes mention of the wide range of styles that Ray has used in his own works over the years. It may have been better if the tributes had been included in the track listing, as it could be that people would not want to watch them every time when viewing the disc.
They are indexed separately, so it is possible to move on to the next music track, but they do not appear on the menu as such. Other tributes come from General Shaw Clifton, Stephen Cobb, and Norman Bearcroft, who insisted on travelling from the USA rather than sending a pre-recorded message.
Perhaps the most revealing of all is the contribution from David King, inspired initially as a player by Ray’s “Rhapsody on Negro Spirituals”, and then referring to the impact Ray and Joy made when appointed to Australia with responsibility for both music and evangelism, as well as his admiration for Ray’s compositions, and the motivation which underlies the music.
Returning to the concert itself, Bramwell Tovey, a former member of Ilford Salvation Army Young People’s Band, has made something of a feature of Ray’s “Fantasia for Band – Christ is the Answer”, having performed it both with Fodens and with the Clarence Adoo Band on a number of occasions.
Playing without music in front of him, there are plenty of shots of his fingers at the keyboard, as well as distance and close-up shots in profile. A camera was also positioned to provide a head-on view of the pianist, revealing his facial expressions to good effect. As in the hall on the day, the vocal contribution from the band seems a little under-powered, and one misses the full sound that characterised the ISB’s singing in former days, but it is good to have the performance preserved for posterity.
At the end of the performance, it is interesting to see how Bramwell goes to acknowledge Stephen Cobb and the band before accepting the acclaim from the audience. He then remains at the piano to accompany Susan Turner in the song “Serenity”, written especially for her. Viewing again, one appreciates even more than on the night the richness of her tone, especially in the lower register, and the way in which she communicates with the audience.
The phrases may be a little shorter than when she was in her prime, but the words come across very clearly, and Bramwell’s accompaniment – played from a yellowing copy held together with sticky tape! – is first-class.
“By love compelled” is representative of numerous devotional items produced for use in worship by Ray Steadman-Allen, and the camera work highlights the various soloists as appropriate, notably Brad Turnbull on trombone, Kevin Ashman and Philip Cobb on cornet and Derick Kane on euphonium.
Derick is featured as soloist in “Lyric Variations”, and although Derick is as secure as ever in the wide-ranging solo line, there are moments when the accompaniment is less convincing. There is also a soprano cornet solo which the cameraman only seems to pick up halfway through.
The two major band items are “The Holy War”, premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in Centenary Year (1965) and “Romans 8 – a brass celebration”, written to accompany a series of Bible studies held at the Territorial School of Music at Cobham Hall. Both receive commanding performances, and the pictures offer the chance to see how the players deal with the various challenges the music offers, as well as showing how calm Stephen Cobb appears even at the most intense moments.
Ray himself speaks at the conclusion of “Romans 8”, highlighting the words of the song referred to at the end of the piece, “In the Cross of Christ I glory”.
As a former member of the ISB trombone section, Ray understands the instrument well, and has contributed several solos and ensemble pieces to the repertoire. For “Wonders begin when the Lord comes in” the ISB players are joined by trombonists from Chatham, where the Steadman-Allens currently worship, and Kettering, the Corps to which they moved immediately after retirement.
With the eleven players ranged across the rear of the stage, it makes for an impressive sight, and under Ray’s baton they produce a lively account of the work.
Ray is also prevailed upon to conduct the Staff Songsters in ”The Christian Mission”, although one gets the impression that they are wanting to sing it at a slightly faster tempo than he would like. The ISS’s major work is “My new day”, written for the recently-inaugurated group and still placing considerable demands on both singers and listeners.
Angular phrases, tone clusters and other techniques all combine to produce a striking composition, with words including a poem by Commissioner Albert Mingay, “St Patrick’s Breastplate” – in the haunting central movement – and Psalm 118.
“Remember me” finds the songsters in more familiar territory and they produce a memorable reading, with excellent balance between the men’s and women’s voices, and an entrancing piano interlude from Richard Phillips. They also draw the recording to a close with a benediction entitled “Vesper”, based on the melody from another Steadman-Allen ensemble work, “Trombone Vespers”.
This DVD will provide a lasting memento for those who were there, and will offer those who were unable to attend the chance to experience something of the atmosphere of the occasion, recognising one of the major figures in music making not only within The Salvation Army, but also the wider brass band world.
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