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Black Dyke & International Staff Band of the Salvation Army

2019 RNCM Brass Band Festival
Conductors: Prof Nicholas Childs & Stephen Cobb
Narrator: Matthew Routley
RNCM Manchester
Saturday 26th January

stars
Following the ISB’s exploration of the ‘classics’ of Wilfred Heaton’s Salvationist repertoire earlier in the afternoon, Black Dyke was tasked with the evening curation of his ‘legacy’ of secular brass band output.

Once more we were left requiring a sybil to answer the questions that arose from his ability to write with such opaque mastery of form and function; his cryptic craftsmanship kaleidoscopic - from the humour of the march ‘Le Tricot Rouge’ to the epic canvas of ‘Contest Music’. 

Prof Nicholas Childs drew on impressive reserves of personal and ensemble understanding throughout - the march played with a touch of irascible humour, followed by the restless power and Waltonesque refinement of his early ‘Scherzo’ - later used in his imposing ‘Partita’.

Methodist guidance

‘Meditation on Aberystwyth’ was almost a rhapsodic fantasy of minor-keyed appraisals on Joseph Parry’s iconic hymn tune; Heaton delving deep into the structural soul of the score as well as the non-conformist beauty of Charles Wesley’s words - the Queensbury band doing likewise.

It was a performance of Methodist guidance - the music revealing both its anguish and salvation.   

It was a performance of Methodist guidance - the music revealing both its anguish and salvation.   

Paul Hindmarsh’s affectionate ‘Pilgrim’s Song’ amalgam of Heaton extracts and cues built into a suite of incidental music linking the hymn tune ‘Monksgate’ with spoken elements of Bunyon’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ was an engaging curiosity. 

The allegorical tale (which Philip Wilby used with his version premiered here in 2017) was truly valiant in Christian endeavour, although the pilgrim may have needed inspiration on his dreamy trek to the Celestial City by a more dramatically infused omnipotent narration.  

A sense of deep seated realism permeated Brett Baker's lovely treament of the simple but vexing 'Sweet Hour of Prayer' - haunting with its sense of dedication. It was a moment of humbling stillness.   

Restrained ascent

‘Contest Music’ provided the formidable challenge to close the first half – its peak on this occasion attained through a carefully restrained ascent. 

The starkly condensed sonata form of the opening led into the ambiguities of the central section – from the tip of Richard Marshall’s delicate top C# pause to the solo cornet’s unresolved conclusion.  The final movement flowed with dramatic impulse to an incisive close. 

The massed band items after the break were rather insubstantial in comparison – the clever march ‘Glory! Glory!’ conducted by Peter Graham, ‘My Treasure’ directed by Stephen Cobb, and a brisker take on a reprise of the march ‘Praise’ with Black Dyke’s Director of Music at the helm.

Heaton’s inscrutability however remained intact. 

Iwan Fox

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