CD cover - The Heaton Collection – Volume 4The Heaton Collection – Volume 4


Black Dyke Band
Conductor: Nicholas Childs
SPS Recordings: SPS218CD
Total Playing Time: 63.27

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This final volume of the brass works of Wilfred Heaton is perhaps the most poignantly revealing of all. As stated by the composer's son in law, Bryan Stobart, the music here is perhaps best seen and heard as his valedictory musical statement. It tells us of a deeply thoughtful, intelligent, yet complex character; a serious man with serious views on life and his music. It makes for a very profound listening experience.

The three works featured are his immense ‘Sinfonia Concertante for Cornet and Band', ‘Music for Brass Sextet': – ‘Toccata – Oh, the Blessed Lord', and his final work, ‘Variations', left unfinished, yet fully, and gloriously realised and completed by Howard Snell.   Each is a work of quite stunning accomplishment.

Heaton is today rightly regarded as a master of his craft, yet for far too many years his music was overlooked and ignored both by the musical hierarchy of the BBC with its post war quasi intellectual shift towards contemporary composition, and later, and almost criminally by the secular brass band movement through its luddite conservatism of musical taste. Thankfully, times and fashions have changed, yet those decisions it seems had a profound effect on the composer and for extended periods his output was very near negligible. These final works perhaps represent his acceptance of those changes, as well as the deeper ones that affected his own personal life following the death of his wife in 1986.

The ‘Sinfonia' was written for the virtuosic talents of Martin Winter and nearly 15 years after he himself premiered it with Fodens Band he returns to deliver a quite breathtaking performance of maturity.  The structural architecture of the music is stark, pared to the bone of any unwanted fat. Even the lyricism is tempered, opaque in nature. There are staggering demands placed upon the soloist in terms of technique, yet there are no unwarranted hurdles to overcome that in the hands of other composers merely become self serving pyrotechnics (even the quite stunning cadenza).   Everything has been given deep and meaningful thought, small gestures annotated, large sweeping lines moulded with remarkable clarity of form. 

Winter delivers a performance of amazing musical scope; detailed and nuanced, coloured and shaped. The connection between the composer intentions and performers execution is quite stunning.   

The ‘Music for Brass Sextet': – ‘Toccata – Oh, the Blessed Lord' is both familiar yet refreshing. More commonly heard in its full brass band form here it revealed as a chamber piece of superb creativity. Although not as clearly defined as the full orchestration it is masterful in structure; each part almost weighted in terms of input, the thematic material developed sophisticatedly but without pretence. When the composer had finished the process on which he set out he ends it with an ambiguous finality as if clearly showing that there is nothing more to be said.  

Finally, ‘Variations', a quite enthralling work of magnitude for brass. The foundations, if it is fair to describe them as such of the work, were completed just days before Heaton died in 2000 (Variations 1 –4 were scored completely; Variation 8 was but a fragment, and the rest sketches of varying completeness). Howard Snell, perhaps the composers greatest admirer and advocate even in those times of negligence, accepted the task to complete the musical monument (Heaton had dedicated the work ‘in admiration and gratitude' to him) and has done so with quite sublime skill and creativity. It is fair to say no other composer for brass could have done so with such remarkable appreciation. This is Heaton's music in all but the written hand.

As with the ‘Sinfonia' it is a deeply personal work in terms of both emotion and construction.  Each variation is laid out with such precision of thoughtfulness that not a note, an annotation or marking is out of place. It can appear at times to be rather oblique and cold in terms of passion, such is the control and the detail in the discipline of the writing, yet there is a remarkable elegance in its presentation.   The intriguing Variations 6 – 8 show a subtly of almost ironic wit, although it rather reveals that Heaton was somewhat uncomfortable with frippery of any sort. It is too serious to call them humorous.

The final variations are notable for their poignancy. Variation 11; ‘Threnody for Charlotte Anne Stobart' is a deeply moving affectionate tribute to a lost grandchild, whilst in the concluding variations you can almost sense the finality of the composer's musical thought process. It is a work of profound depth. 

This final volume of Heaton's work is a magnificent achievement. The production values are of the highest order (the sleeve notes from Paul Hindmarsh in particular are excellent) and the performances from both the soloist Martin Winter and Black Dyke and their sextet are outstanding. Wilfred Heaton has been given a monument to his greatness in the finest way possible.

Iwan Fox

What's on this CD?

1. Sinfonia Concertante for Cornet and Band, Wilfred Heaton, Martin Winter (Cornet), 26.08
2. Music for Brass Sextet (Toccata — Oh, the Blessed Lord), Wilfred Heaton, 6.50
3. Variations, Wilfred Heaton realised Howard Snell, 30.14

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