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Regent Brass

Works that could have heralded the exploration of very different musical vistas for the brass band movement gain a welcome reprise.



New Horizons
Conductor: Alan Duguid
Soloist: Alfie Bousfield 
St Saviour’s Church
Pimlico
London
Sunday 7th July

A concert of what ifs, buts and maybes, missed opportunities and ignorance, exciting ambitions and emerging talent. 

Regent Brass could have well been entitled it ‘Lost Horizons’ such were the unfulfilled compositional possibilities on show.

Ambitious approach

Instead, it offered a welcome retrospective (as well as a spotlight on newer voices) of the likes of HK Gruber, Hans Werner Henze, Judith Bingham and Harrison Birtwistle - composers whose explorative navigations have been somewhat wilfully shunted into branch line sidings, emerging occasionally from their neglect by knowledgeable aficionados. 

Alan Duguid’s ambitious approach saw the band overcome a previous postponement (due rather ironically to a rail strike) to open with Gruber’s sardonic ‘Demilitarised Zones’  (1979).

It's acerbic mix of military march bombast and pacifist hopefulness sees America, France and Germany locked in overlapping musical tension; the composer’s ‘paraphrased’ viewpoint of banding’s hinterland underpinning what eventually becomes an uneasy, peaceful detente. 

It's acerbic mix of military march bombast and pacifist hopefulness sees America, France and Germany locked in overlapping musical tension; the composer’s ‘paraphrased’ viewpoint of banding’s hinterland underpinning what eventually becomes an uneasy, peaceful detente.

Pitch-tar

It was followed by ‘Bells, Unrung’  by Franklin Onyeso (2024) - an extended bass trombone solo (played with pitch-tar tonal assuredness by Alfie Bousfield) that manipulated the famous chimes of Big Ben into a series of absorbing sound portraits – some angular, percussive and bright, others more sombre and reflective. 

Hans Werner Henze’s ‘Ragtimes and Habaneras’ (1975) has emerged more often, although its stylistic influences still retain the sharply observed Marxist subversiveness in its juxtaposition of foxtrot and tango, rumba, Charleston, Cuban Son and Kurt Weil nods of honour. 

Michael Nyman’s hypnotic ‘In C Interlude’  (2005) was inspired by Terry Riley’s influential ‘In C’ from 1964.  It’s four-part incremental development, each slightly amended in individual repetition, drew the music forward to its increasingly complex conclusion.

Hans Werner Henze’s ‘Ragtimes and Habaneras’  (1975) has emerged more often, although its stylistic influences still retain the sharply observed Marxist subversiveness in its juxtaposition of foxtrot and tango, rumba, Charleston, Cuban Son and Kurt Weil nods of honour. 

Mix and match

It was richly appreciated by an audience who returned for a second half featuring further overdue as well as thoughtful reprises. 

Judith Bingham’s energised ‘Four Minute Mile’  (1991) dipped below the finishing line with a triumphant flourish, whilst Robin Fiedler’s immersive ‘Castle in the Sky’  (written as part of the ‘Adopt a Music Creator Scheme’ in 2023) was a wonderfully realised piece of communal mix and match – heavy and dramatic, light and floating.

Peter Yarde Martin’s very personal ‘Elegy’  (2022) was a heartfelt tribute to a much loved colleague, Sylvia Flaxman – its sense of loss underpinned by a plaintive meditative strength based on a recurring three note motif.

Truest colours

A rare performance of Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Salford Toccata’  (1989) rounded things off – appropriate given that it should have been part of what unfortunately became an unfilled trilogy of works for the medium commissioned by Elgar Howarth. 

It is an industrialised portrait of uncompromising bleakness – although one of dynamism and visceral emotion; the ‘dirty old town’ as Ewan MacColl famously called it, painted in its truest colours.  

It is an industrialised portrait of uncompromising bleakness – although one of dynamism and visceral emotion; the ‘dirty old town’ as Ewan MacColl famously called it, painted in its truest colours.  

Raymond Yu’s ‘Lullaby’  from his ‘Ink Garden’  suite (2013) was a teasing bit of Satie-like ‘Gymnopedie’ - an appropriately imaginative encore to an ambitious and welcome concert.

Iwan Fox 

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