CD cover - Ad OptimumAd Optimum

6-Jan-2005

Brass Band Buizingen
Conductor: Luc Vertommen
Featuring: Peter Roberts
Mirasound Recordings: CD 88470-2
Total playing Time: 78.36

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This is a little belter of a CD. You would be hard pressed to get a more slickly produced and well performed recording than this anywhere during 2005, and it is a real credit to the band and all who were involved in all aspects of its production.

There are far too many people who are more than a little dismissive of the standard of brass band playing on the continent of Europe, and especially that found in the Low Countries of Holland and Belgium, and whilst there is not a great deal of strength in depth in both countries there is certainly enough quality.

Brass Band Buizingen has been around a fair old time (they were formed as far back as 1879) but it was not until 1975 that they became a modern brass band. Since that time they have been twice B Section Belgium National winners and have in recent years started to provide stiff competition for the traditional heavyweight of the Belgian banding scene, Brass Band Willebroek. They are also an organisation with a very progressive outlook and have championed a number of works by leading Flemish composers, including for this release the breathtaking talents of Johan Evenepoel – more of which later.

It is not often also that a performer of the undoubted quality of Peter Roberts is outshone, but on this occasion the brilliant soprano player is pipped by the overall playing of the band. The simple reason for this is that the standard of playing on the release on both the main ensemble tracks as well as the accompaniment to the solo items is excellent, and never at any time falls below that standard.

Peter Roberts is on top form himself with some delightful playing on his four items. From Stephen Bulla's facile and lucid ‘The Higher Plane' through to a stunner of a melodic ‘Kyrie' by Paolo Rustichelli , a stop for a fresh as a daisy ‘Rhapsody for Soprano Cornet' by Robert Eaves (Edward Gregson in disguise) and a humdinger of a ‘Nun's Chorus' from ‘Casanova' by Strauss, ‘Piccolo Pete' is on the very top of his game and thoroughly enjoying himself.

Our only gripe was perhaps that the ‘Nun's Chorus' was perhaps a bit too orgasmic – the starched wimples of the good sisters may have been creased a bit by the antics of Casanova a bit too much on this occasion we feel!

The other ensemble items from the band are as polished as a vestry floor as well, with some slick and detailed playing throughout which is enhanced by some superb deep throated bass playing, a middle of the band sound that is as fat as a Brussels MEP and a top cornet line that has a warmth and controlled timbre even at the loudest dynamics and in the highest register. Much of the credit for this must surely go to the MD, Luc Vertommen who has imbued a lovely restrained sense of style and musicality from his band, whilst giving them enough of a slack leash to be playful and at times menacing when required.   

Thus, we get excellent control and delicacy in items from 'West Side Story', some quite lovely full band sounds in ‘Choral of Hope' (which is a little gem of a piece from Mr Evenepoel) and excellent technical playing from all around the stand in the opening ‘Ceremonial Fanfare' and title track, ‘Ad Optimum' by Peter Graham. They even sound like a good old circus slap and tickle band in the JJ Richards ‘Emblem of Unity', which is a pee in the pod multiple twin to any other of his marches he ever wrote.

However, what makes this CD just that bit better is a performance of Johan Evenepoel's, ‘Ginnungagap…seeming emptiness' that is breathtaking to say the least. This work was used as the set test for the 2004 Netherlands National Championships in which this band came runners up to Willebroek, and on this form, Willebroek must have been hard pushed all the way to retain their title – for this is top class playing.

It is a piece that takes its inspiration from Nordic mythology and the beginning of the world before men (and Gods) existed. It is a rather tortuous (if entertaining story) to get your head around, but what the composer has done is produce a work of stunning musical brilliance.  The three movements are continuous and composed in a tonal manner that is both accessible yet very challenging, whilst the composition of the performing ensemble itself is broken into three groups, two of which are positioned around a central horn and baritone/euph core. The percussion used is mind-blowingly complex, yet unlike many a modern composition, it is used to enhance and contrast with the brass rather than just be a driving overblown effects department.   It is worth repeating - the overall effect is stunning.

All three movements explore contrasting moods: Hot/Cold; Virtuosity/Calm; Divine/Human and it gives you both a shudder of surprise as well as warmth of enjoyable contentment. There are little echoes of thematic material popping up here there and everywhere, but the composer allows the work to develop organically so that there is a constant musical core to the work that is never lost.

It may take over 25 minutes to perform (and which may mean it may not feature in the overlong contests we have here in the UK) but it is work that demands to be heard at the highest level - it really is that impressive and a magnificent addition to the repertoire.

This is an outstanding release from Buizingen, and a bit of a benchmark recording for a European brass band – this is playing that would grace any contest or concert stage, and there won't be many better releases all year from anywhere around the world.  If there are, they will have to be pretty good indeed.
 
Iwan Fox

What's on this CD?

1. Ceremonial Festival, Roger Deronge, 2.21
2. Ad Optimum (To The Highest), Peter Graham, 6.31
3. The Higher Plane, soprano cornet: Peter Roberts, Stephen Bulla, 6.14
4. Kyrie, Paolo Rustichelli, arr. Luc Vertommen, 4.02
Soprano cornet: Peter Roberts,
5. Ginnungagap — seeming emptiness, Johan Evenepoel, 8.00
6. Ginnungagap — seeming emptiness, Johan Evenepoel, 8.31
7. Ginnungagap — seeming emptiness, Johan Evenepoel, 8.49
8. Choral of Hope, Johan Evenepoel, 5.03
9. Mythic Trevithic, Goff Richards, 4.59
10. Nuns' Chorus from 'Casanova', Johann Strauss, arr. Luc Vertommen, 4.21
Soprano cornet: Peter Roberts,
11. Rhapsody for soprano cornet, Robert Eaves, 6.00
Soprano cornet: Peter Roberts
West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein
12. One hand, one heart, arr. Luc Vertommen, 6.02
13. America, arr. Alan Fernie, 3.37
14. Emblem of Unity, Joseph John Richards, arr. Luc Vertommen, 3.02

Total CD running time: 78.36

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