CD review: The Music of Philip Wilby: The Pilgrim's Progress

Black Dyke Band
Conductor: Prof Nicholas Childs
Organists: Philip Wilby; Darius Battiwalla
Soloists: Zoe Lovatt-Cooper; Marcus Groundwater
Narrator: Matthew Routley
Doyen Recordings: CD392

If Philip Wilby is ever persuaded to write his autobiography perhaps he will gain inspiration from John Bunyan: Many of his compositions have also plotted an allegorical journey from this world to that which is to come, underpinned along their way by a deep, personal sense of faith.

He is also a pilgrim of remarkable generosity of spirit - one fully appreciated here by Prof Nicholas Childs who draws a series of lucid, articulate performances from Black Dyke that reveal the ingrained creativity behind works which are recorded to celebrate the composer’s 70th birthday.

Bunyon’s protagonist seeks redemption - his Christian resolve tested by sinful burdens. 

Wilby’s descriptive writing sets the tone of each challenge; from first steps along the hymnal ‘Monk’s Gate’ path to the Celestial City and deliverance via detours that wrack both body and soul.


The music, detailed and eloquent, acts as the ‘omniscient narrator’ (aided by a somewhat mono-toned Matthew Routley and tender vocalist in Marcus Groundwater), the listener drawn along the journey like a silent Sherpa in the pilgrim’s footsteps.

It is a compelling counterweight to the glorious sounds of ‘Cinema’, which draw you into a totally different, but equally compelling allegorical world of artistic parable and political metaphor - that of old picture houses acting as secular cathedrals of entertainment and purveyors of propaganda to the masses.

Wilby’s descriptive writing sets the tone of each challenge; from first steps along the hymnal ‘Monk’s Gate’ path to the Celestial City and deliverance via detours that wrack both body and soul.

There is a bucolic immediacy to ‘Five Rivers - A Pastoral Symphony for Brass Band’; the seasonal flows of the Aire, Wharfe, Nidd, Ure and Swain permeating the mind’s eye despite the lack of accompanying imagery which is used to frame the work in public  performance – from bright Spring and glowing Summer to the chills of Autumn and storms of Winter.

Saltier taste

‘Beyond Far Horizons: Sailing West’ has a saltier taste; inspired by the sea-faring history of Bristol and its vivid, if at times, troubling outlook towards the riches of the New World. Wilby (who also performs on organ) captures the dichotomies; the restful interludes and natural beauty, the squalls and human tragedies.      

Turbulence too with the flugel solo ‘One Star: Sailing West’, played with alacrity by Zoe Lovatt-Cooper in recalling a closer nautical horizon (a trip from Bristol to Penzance), whilst ‘The True and Tender North - A Simple Symphony for Brass Band’ is a cleverly realised combination of personal dedications wrapped into an expertly crafted, warm-hearted 25th anniversary present. 

A lovely dry wit bubbles on its surface, yet the appreciation of the endeavour and dedication of those for whom it is written is never lost.

Iwan Fox

To purchase: https://www.worldofbrass.com/100530-group.html

Play list:

1. Five Rivers (Philip Wilby)
i. Part One
ii. Part Two
3. The Pilgrim’s Progress (Philip Wilby)
i. Bunyan’s Hymn
ii. The Journey
iii. Meditation
iv. Vanity Fair
v. The Celestial City
8. Beyond Far Horizons: Sailing West (Philip Wilby)
9. One Star: Sailing West (Philip Wilby)
Soloist: Zoe Lovatt-Cooper
i. Andante Lirico
ii. Andante Tranquillo
11. Cinema (Philip Wilby)
Organ Soloist: Darius Battiwalla
i. Precipitato
ii. Serene
13. The True and Tender North (Philip Wilby)
i. Part One
ii. Part Two 

Support us for less than a cup of coffee...

4BR wants to ensure that the brass band movement remains vibrant and relevant. We also want to be able to question, challenge and critically examine those who run and play in it, producing high quality journalism that informs as well as entertains our readers.

So if like us you value a strong, independent perspective on the brass band world - then why not consider becoming a supporter and help make our future and that of a burgeoning brass band movement more secure.

So one less cappuccino then?

Support us    

Black Dyke Band - Macmillan Theatre, Bridgwater

Sunday 18 August • The McMillan Theatre, Bath Road, Bridgwater,Somerset TA6 4PZ

Regent Hall Concerts - Ensemble Sauterelle (french horns and male voices)

Friday 23 August • Charlton House. Charlton Road. London. SE7 8RE SE7 8RE

Sandhurst Silver Band - Music in the Memorial Park

Sunday 25 August • Sandhurst Memorial Park, Yorktown Road, Sandhurst GU47 9DP

Foden's Band - Sandbach

Monday 26 August • The Wheatsheaf, Sandbach, 1 Hightown, Sandbach CW11 1AG

Black Dyke Band - Scarborough Spa

Saturday 31 August • South Bay, Scarborough YO11 2HD

Band of the Gloucestershire Constabulary

August 18 • We require Front Row CORNETS including PRINCIPAL for a friendly, welcoming, non-contesting band with a sensible diary of public engagements including prestigious performances at venues such as Gloucester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey.

Stannington Brass Band

August 18 • A rare opportunity has arisen to join one of Sheffield's leading bands with a vacancy for an EEb TUBA player to complete our bass section. We have a good band room atmosphere and a calendar of interesting concerts and contests

Corby Silver Band

August 17 • We have vacancies for solo cornet, back row cornet and 1st horn. . We are a 3rd section band based in Northamptonshire in the East Midlands. . Rehearsals 8pm - 10pm Monday & Wednesday held in our own band club. We do not charge any subs.

James Chamberlain

BMus (Hons) PGCE
Conductor, Teacher


 © 2019 4barsrest.com Ltd