CD cover - The Lighter Side of Elgar HowarthThe Lighter Side of Elgar Howarth

18-Nov-2006

Buy As You View Band
Conductor: Dr. Robert Childs
Soloists: Owen Farr, David Childs, Chris Thomas, Joanne Deane, Susan Thomas, Michelle Ibbotson, Andrew Williams, Ian Williams, Chris Turner, Darren Thomas
Doyen Recordings: DOYCD215
Total Playing Time:

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This is a long overdue and most welcome CD release. Almost 35 years after he first walked into the band hall as Musical Advisor to the then Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Elgar Howarth has provided the brass band movement with a whole treasure trove of original and arranged works.

In return he has at times been treated with disdain and misunderstanding, at others with gratitude and joyful appreciation. No other musician of his international standing has given even a smidgeon of their talent, time and genuine love to our movement as he has. To no other musician of his standing do we owe such a great debt of gratitude.  

It is perhaps his ‘serious' output that causes such polarization of opinion in the movement, although these compositions are some of the finest ever written for the genre. However, people do tend to forget that he has also given us a unique collection of ‘lighter' works of such purposeful originality too.

His association with Grimethorpe came just a year after the first Granada Band of the Year Contest saw brass bands reach a potential audience of millions. Howarth was quick to see the potential of the opportunity this provided and over the next two decades he produced a plethora of short concert pieces both in original and arranged form that changed the musical direction of the movement as a whole. He was the pioneer that broke the mould and without him it is doubtful we would have enjoyed the delights of other talented one offs such as Howard Snell and Ray Farr or more latterly, the likes of Sandy Smith or Andy Dunca.

These 17 tracks showcase the whole spectrum of his talents, both in his own name and that of his anagrammatically inspired pseudonym, W. Hogarth Lear.  The latter was used to put the more Luddite tendency in the early 1970's brass band movement off his writing scent (very much like the comedian Ronnie Barker, who at the same time wrote much of the Two Ronnies funniest sketches under the non de plume of Gerald Whylie).

Even today, the results are as fresh as at the time they were written – in turn witty and dry, at others, dark, melancholic and plaintive. 

The solo items are particularly brilliant in their almost simplistic approach and are given excellent performances by the BAYV players. Chris Thomas has a liquid elegance in ‘Embraceable You', Owen Farr, an emotional presence of musical mind in ‘David of the White Rock' and Joanne Dean displays a lovely hint of relaxed tenderness in the Duke Ellington classic ‘In a Sentimental Mood'.  Susan Thomas creates an atmospheric ambience to ‘The Old Chalet' whilst Andrew Williams enjoys himself with neat touch of pompous swagger in ‘Barney's Tune'. The duet between Michelle Ibbotson and Owen Farr is beautifully balanced and shaped in ‘Greensleeves'.

The highlight though is David Childs's performance of ‘Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair', which is a veritable masterclass of refinement and lyrical understatement.

Like the Ronnie Barker sketches, Howarth's intelligent, almost sly wit stands up surprisingly well, whiles his pastiche work, although a little more dated still retains that sense of musical intelligence. ‘Mr Lear's Carnival' is taken at one heck of a lick at times by some of the BAYV sections, and there are still not many better showcase displays of virtuoso posing as this one even today. ‘Pel Mel' too is taken at a correct ‘Pel Mel' tempo, whilst ‘Cops and Robbers' just about works if you close your eyes and think of two fat old bobbies chasing a masked footpad with a bag marked swag around the cobbled streets of Manchester on a cold December night.  Today the rozzers would use CCTV and a Panda car.

The opening 'Zurich March' has the precision of a Swiss railway timetable, whilst the little gem of ‘Hunting the Hare' has the feel as if the entire mounted aristocracy of the Monmouth Hunt is chasing the poor old animal to death. ‘Chinese Take Away' is a slightly sideways glance behind the beaded curtain at the local Lotus House chippie too – not quite what you are expecting from a number 42 and fried rice, and the gnomish ‘Berne Patrol' reveals just why the Swiss never go to war – it starts with a quick peep at what is going on and swift gander at the action before an even swifter retreat back to their cuckoo clocks and numbered bank accounts.

The two items that really did demand closer attention though were the startlingly modern ‘Red Sky at Night' and ‘American Dream' both of which absolute nuggets of intelligent brass writing. Amazing to think that both are over 30 years old.

On final point to make though is that the majority of the tracks are around 3 – 4 minutes in duration – neither too short to be throwaway or too long to lose their immediate focus of attention. In fact they are almost perfectly timed to say exactly what the composer wants.

Buy As You View and their MD Robert Childs have produced a little cracker of a release with this CD. The playing is top notch, the production values excellent (the sleeve notes in particular) and of course, the music ensures you can enjoy one of the best lighter 68 minutes of music making for a long, long time. It has been well worth the wait.

Iwan Fox.

What's on this CD?

1. Zurich March, Traditional arr. Elgar Howarth, 1.56
2. Mr Lear's Carnival, W. Hogarth Lear, 4.42
3. Embraceable You, George Gershwin arr. Elgar Howarth, Christopher Thomas (Trombone), 4.08
4. Hunt the Hare, Traditional arr. Elgar Howarth, 3.41
5. Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, Stephen Foster arr. Elgar Howarth, David Childs (Euphonium), 2.52
6. Pel Mel, W. Hogarth Lear, 3.46
7. Berne Patrol, Traditional arr. Elgar Howarth, 4.48
8. David of the White Rock, Traditional arr. Elgar Howarth, Owen Farr (Tenor Horn), 2.58
9. Red Sky at Night, W. Hogarth Lear, 4.03
10. Chinese Take Away, W. Hogarth Lear, Ian Williams, Christopher Turner and Darren Thomas (Cornets), 4.21
11. Greensleeves, Traditional arr. Elgar Howarth, Michelle Bowater (Soprano Cornet) and Owen Farr (Tenor Horn), 4.46
12. Hogarth's Hoedown, W. Hogarth Lear, 2.26
13. In A Sentimental Mood, Duke Ellington arr. Elgar Howarth, Joanne Deane (Flugel Horn), 3.32
14. Cops and Robbers, W. Hogarth Lear, 4.59
15. Barney's Tune, W. Hogarth Lear, Andrew Williams (Bass Trombone), 3.28
16. American Dream, Elgar Howarth, 3.28
17. The Old Chalet, Traditional arr. Elgar Howarth, Susan Thomas (Baritone), 3.10

Totla playing time: 68.49

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