The International Staff Band of the Salvation Army

2019 RNCM Brass Band Festival
Conductor: Stephen Cobb
RNCM Manchester
Saturday 27th January

Placing Wilfred Heaton in the appropriate context as a brass band composer remains as enigmatic a riddle as the man himself. 

His musical relationship with the Salvation Army seems to have been one of youthful enterprise followed by sparkling imagination and eventual mature soul searching.  

Creative spark

As a result, his ‘creative spark’, as Festival Director Paul Hindmarsh recalled, was certainly intermittent (decades so at some point), although it always retained a level of quite remarkable invention.

How could an 18 year old structure a march quite like ‘Praise’ - one to be played at a very specific stately 112 beats but still retaining such a light, acerbic wit, whilst also being able to treat the seemingly mundane variation form of ‘Celestial Prospect’ with such symphonic detail and harmonic originality?   

Not surprisingly those questions and more remained unresolved at the end of the ISB’s welcome return to the RNCM Festival for the first time since 2005 - one that was both long overdue and thoroughly absorbing. 

Heaton’s sporadic ‘classics’ came in different forms; the quirky march followed by the beautiful simplicity of ‘Passing By’ and the gloriously complex drive and muscular purpose of ‘Toccata’ (O the Blessed Lord).  

Then there was the theatrical waltz fancy of ‘Mercy’s Light’, the affecting humility of ‘My Master’s Will’, and the impressionistic charm of the Ravel inspired ‘Victory for Me’ (which confirmed that Heaton was not adverse of pinching an idea or two from others).

Heaton’s sporadic ‘classics’ came in different forms; the quirky march followed by the beautiful simplicity of ‘Passing By’ and the gloriously complex drive and muscular purpose of ‘Toccata’ (O the Blessed Lord).  

Fulfilling ending

‘Just as I Am’ seemed like an opaque self-portrait - deeply interwoven textures building to a passionate peak before the exhaustive repose. 

It was left to ‘Celestial Prospect’ to provide the fulfilling ending; Stephen Cobb pacing each of the variations with intuitive understanding, the ensemble playing with considered respect, especially in the central elegy section of melancholic poignancy.  

It was a fine close to a fine concert - one that had a memorable coda with the affectionate acclaim reserved for Derick Kane after 42 years of outstanding dedication to his faith and his music.

Iwan Fox     

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