CD review: Landscapes

Cory Band
Conductor: Philip Harper
Doyen Recordings: DOY CD400

The diverse beauty of the natural environment has long inspired orchestral composers – from Beethoven and Mendelssohn to Copland and Messiaen.

Understandably, the brass band repertoire is somewhat limited in comparison, although as far back as the 1920’s Henry Geehl gave us ‘On the Cornish Coast’  and Holst, ‘A Moorside Suite’ ; understandably less expansive in their appreciation of the majesty of nature, but nonetheless, of significance to the movement’s musical development.

More recently composers such as Oliver Waespi have evoked the topography of both urban and rural vistas whilst others have looked above and below ground to create works of lasting substance.

On the face of it Philip Harper’s choices for this recording seem predictable. The reality is that they are anything but.


McCabe’s formidable masterpiece is the most direct panoramic appreciation – a remarkable composition rarely conquered.

In contrast, Ireland’s suite is a particular appreciation of a bucolic England that never really existed except in the romantic’s mind’s eye, whilst the Elgar is arguably a self portrait of repressed doubt and religious conviction than a picture postcard trip around Worcester. 

Ball writes his as a metaphor for Christian spiritual attainment, whilst the Rubbra is a beautifully crafted anomaly - a Walter Scott piece of Scottish make believe. 

Each is intelligently structured, laid out on expansive canvases that draw on the textures of the writing to create the engaging pathways rather than mere technical routes to conquer the challenges of the scores.  

None of this really matters though - as the MD draws a series of finely honed performances sensitive in appreciation of the composer’s intentions. 

Each is intelligently structured, laid out on expansive canvases that draw on the textures of the writing to create the engaging pathways rather than mere technical routes to conquer the challenges of the scores.  

Rugged majesty

‘Cloudcather Fells’ retains a rugged majesty; from the bleak mysteries of ‘Great Gable’  and ‘Grasmoor’  through to the sharp-edged crags of ‘Haystacks’  and ‘Catchedicam’, the serenity of ‘Angle Tarn’  and final pull to the broad summit vista chords of ‘Helvellyn’.

It stands comparison with the very best recordings. 

Harper’s critique of ‘A Downland Suite’  is also refreshing; shorn of bulk and bombast to reveal its cultured core, whilst ‘A Severn Suite’  has a sumptuous tonality and intense emotional drive (helped by Prof Stephen Allen’s accomplished curating) – the MD pacing the music to a regally Edwardian conclusion.

‘High Peak’  is mature Ball - a diametric response to the industrial aesthetics of ‘Journey into Freedom’  - although each a metaphorical search for ultimate salvation.  

‘High Peak’  is mature Ball - a diametric response to the industrial aesthetics of ‘Journey into Freedom’  - although each a metaphorical search for ultimate salvation. 

Here the mountain challenges the questioning soul – the ascent to its apex plotted with crampon surefootedness by both conductor and players alike. 

Forgotten gem

It leaves the Rubbra. An almost forgotten gem, 'Variations on The Shining River'  was sold as something it wasn’t by Frank Wright as a work of Scottish whimsy.

In fact it was simply a wonderful piece of extemporisation originating from a 1952 series of piano studies the composer wrote for youngsters. Wright came up with the tale of a midnight stroll by a silvery Scottish loch for the 1957 Nationals.

Rubbra never mentioned it himself (he provided sleeve notes on it on a later Black Dyke recording) and given that the movements that preceded it were called ‘Peasant Dance’, ‘Cradle Song’  and ‘The Donkey’  you could perhaps understand why.  

That was more like Tam O’Shanter on his way home from the pub.  

However the poetic licence does not lessen the beauty of the writing; elegant, translucent and cultured, seamlessly flowing onwards with an oily richness and texture aided by the outstanding contributions from the performers.

Iwan Fox

To purchase: https://wobplay.com/

Play list:
1. Cloudcatcher Fells (John McCabe)
2.  A Downland Suite (John Ireland)
i. Prelude
ii. Elegy
iii. Minuet
iv. Rondo
6. The Severn Suite (Edward Elgar)
7. Variations on The Shining River (Edmund Rubbra)
8. High Peak (Eric Ball)
9. Album Insight - digital programme notes (Philip Harpe with Adam Goldsmith)

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