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CD review: RSA — A Centenary Celebration

The Music of Ray Steadman-Allen
Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band
Conductor: John Ward
Featuring: Peter Moore (trombone); Thomas Nielsen (cornet); Thomas Moore (organ)
CA Recordings: CA0006


Discovering the music of Ray Steadman-Allen is an inquisitive delight.

Although prolific and hugely significant in Salvation Army repertoire, his compositions retain the glorious knack of taking you away from ingrained assumptions; attractive and tonal, yet deceptive and unexpected.  They are reflective of both his humanity and faith – questioning and compelling in their musical arguments. 

You can hear why he caused a few furrowed brows in traditionalist circles. 

Ronald W. Holz’s sleeve notes give a précised appreciation of his gifts - ones he says can be considered in three parts; from the seminal Salvation works of the 1940-50s, to his ‘coming of age’ in the mid-1960s and his ‘mature’ autumnal years which encompassed output written for the secular brass band movement. 

They reveal a composer of rich invention and originality, brimming with a confidence that leaves the listener bound in admiration of his inherent expressionism and bold structures. 

The works featured on this absorbing release (the proceeds of which aid the Clarence Adoo MBE Trust) come from the second era onwards, and after his magnificent ‘Lord of the Sea’  composition had caused considerable furore. 

Rich invention and originality

They reveal a composer of rich invention and originality, brimming with a confidence that leaves the listener bound in admiration of his inherent expressionism and bold structures. 

His music is very well served by John Ward and Carlton Main Frickley Colliery, whilst the soloists are exceptional. 

Peter Moore is a glorious rhapsodic lead in ‘Fantasy for Trombone on Spirituals’ – his ruby red tone infusing the music with character, whilst Thomas Nielsen is a beacon of elegant virtuosity

Peter Moore is a glorious rhapsodic lead in ‘Fantasy on Spirituals for Trombone’ – his ruby red tone infusing the music with character, whilst Thomas Nielsen is a beacon of elegant virtuosity on ‘A Mid-Century Concerto’  – a work of no specific defined inspiration other than that of the skill set of the great SA cornet player Keith Hutchinson.  

Both expertly explore the detours the composer so cleverely deviates the music with from its well-trodden tracks, with superb musicality.

Equilibrium

A homely path is explored by Dudley Bright with his affectionate setting of the hymn tune ‘Esher’  (the name of RSA’s home as well as the town in which he got married to his wife Joy) – one that also has a little tweak away from the norm.

The recording opens with the three movement ‘Pavilions of Praise’,  an attractive exploration of the hymn tunes ‘St Denio’,  ‘Praise My Soul’ and ‘Petition’;  the craftsmanship of the writing leading the listener to its conclusion with both majesty and wit.

‘Daystar’  is a more free formed variant structure, but one that never loses its focus in spite of its multitude of varied permutations, whilst Paul Hindmarsh’s sympathetic preparation of ‘Chorales and Tangents’  is a wonderful piece of concerto grosso restoration work – the equilibrium between ensemble (with added trumpets and trombones) and organ never biased.  

You are left to marvel at the way the different helixes of musical DNA in each of its six sections still fit seamlessly together – and to sit back and admire the way a wonderful composer for the medium did it.

Iwan Fox


To purchase: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/melodiesforclarence

Play list:

1. Pavilions of Praise 

2. A Mid-Century Concerto 
Soloist: Thomas Neilsen

3. Esher (arr. Dudley Bright)

4. Daystar

5. Fantasy on Spirituals for Trombone
Soloist: Peter Moore

6. Chorales and Tangents (prep. Paul Hindmarsh)

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