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LP review: The Virtuosi Brass Band of Great Britain — Vol IX

Conductor: Stanley Boddington
Soloists: Gordon Higginbottom; Colin Aspinall
Virtuosi Recordings: VR 7609 Stereo

The Virtuosi Brass Band of Great Britain made its first LP recording in March 1973 and this, its last, four years later. 

Although different in make-up, it was very much a reincarnation of Men o’ Brass - Harry Mortimer’s ‘handpicked’ ensemble that for over 20 years had produced a host of popular recordings. 

Mortimer was not directly involved with this commercial venture (Virtuosi Recordings Ltd was set up by Fred Waters and Tom Beckingham) but he did conduct on two albums (Vols VI & VIII), whilst other leading figures such as Eric Ball (Vols I – 4); James Scott (Vol V), Maurice Handford (Vol VII) and Stanley Boddington (Vol IX) took the helm for the rest.

Success

They were for a time a considerable success, with a print run of 3,000 albums on the early releases alone, although they did encounter problems later on in getting the players together for adequate rehearsal time prior to the recordings. The only concert they gave in Plymouth in 1979 was a chaotic disaster.

As a result, and despite the undoubted star quality of many of the leading players, all nine LPs (recorded by the respected Bob Auger), which encompassed easy listening items and solos to overtures and test-pieces, were stylish but frustratingly inconsistent in quality.   

There was also one ‘sampler’ LP released on the Phillips label made up of previously recorded items whilst a few years later the series was re-released on CD.  

As a result, and despite the undoubted star quality of many of the leading players, all nine LPs (recorded by the respected Bob Auger), which encompassed easy listening items and solos to overtures and test-pieces, were stylish but frustratingly inconsistent in quality.   

Waning

The enjoyment value was perhaps waning by the time this last album was released in 1977.

Listening habits were already changing, with a number of the top bands producing releases of greater musical interest and purpose: The era of paying out hard earned cash to hear a fairly ropey version of ‘Ruler of the Spirits’  and a waywardly pedestrian ‘Judges of the Secret Court’   alongside a handful of non-descript Sunday afternoon bandstand pot-boilers and concert fillers was fast fading away into the nostalgic sunset.

Even back then it sounded all rather tired, variable and dated – a display of enjoyable adequacy rather than concentrated virtuosity. 

That said, the featured soloists Gordon Higginbottom and Colin Aspinall are splendid - both in their James Shepherd Versatile Brass pomp (the great man brilliant on principal cornet, but less so on trumpet on ‘Stardust’), although Stanley Boddington seems happy to direct his charges through the repertoire without taxing them unduly. 

Even back then it sounded all rather tired, variable and dated – a display of enjoyable adequacy rather than concentrated virtuosity. 

However, you still rather suspect that if the concept was revived once more you wouldn’t bet against a new Virtuosi Band playing the same type of stuff again.

Iwan Fox


Side 1:
1. Ruler of the Spirits (Weber arr. W. Halliwell)
2. Two Guitars (Frank Bryce)
3. Four Preludes for Tuba & Brass Band (Philip Greenwood)
Soloist: Colin Aspinall
4. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (J.S Bach arr. Drake Rimmer)
5. Steadfast & True (C. Teike)

Side 2:
1. Judges of the Secret Court (Berlioz arr. Frank Wright)
2. September Fantasy (Eric Ball)
Soloist: Gordon Higginbottom
3. Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael arr. Major J. Howe)

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