CD cover - Devils DuelDevils Duel

22-Jun-2007

David Thornton
Black Dyke Band
Conductor: Dr Nicholas Childs
Doyen Recordings: DOYCD229
Total Playing Time: 62.26

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Whether Niccolo Paganini was in league with the Devil or not is a question that can only be answered by those who either heard him play live, or by the people who believe the ‘X Files' are real. Whatever the case may be, he must have been one heck of a handful – a mixture of showman, troubled genius, serious artist and hell raiser all rolled into one; a 19th century version of Alex Higgins meets Damien Hirst. 

By all accounts he could play stuff that almost defied belief in an age when speculation about the forces of the occult and the influence of ‘Old Nick' were at fever pitch. No wonder he was known as a ‘Hexenshon' or witch's brat, because he lived and played like one in equal measures whilst looking like a walking and talking cadaver. 

Thankfully today's leading virtuosi in the brass band world come from rather less exotic stock, although the brilliance of the playing of David Thornton on this excellent release makes you wonder if even he has a darker side to what is a wonderfully levelled headed and engaging personality.  You cannot imagine him throwing down a challenge at a Black Dyke concert to a playing duel would you now, like old Niccolo all those years ago – although you can be sure that if anyone was foolish enough to have a go at beating him they would end up on their playing backsides quicker than Frank Bruno in a fight with Mike Tyson.

All the Black Dyke star's talents are on show here, executed with a wonderful sense of artistic maturity. The pyrotechnical gifts are prodigious of course, but they are accompanied and complimented with immense musical intelligence too.  The eight works allow the performer to extend his own repertoire with style and intent so that the musical foundations are never submerged – the whole edifice of his playing is on display.

The headline work ‘Devil's Duel' comes from the pen of Peter Meechan, and is a showcase of startling virtuosity – not just for the soloist. The challenge is laid down with the famous ‘Caprice No 24' before fending off challenges from around the band with the ease of Phil Bennett sidestepping the on rushing All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park with the Barbarians in 1973. As Cliff Morgan said at the time – "Brilliant, oh, that's brilliant." You are hard pressed to disagree.

In contrast an intuitive sense of lyricism is shown in items such as ‘There Will be God', ‘So Deep is the Night' and ‘Benediction' which in particular is enhanced in a balanced quartet setting that allows for tasteful reflection. Meanwhile, a welcome and rather intriguing quirky inventiveness is also revealed in ‘My Mountain Top' which features synthesized accompaniment and deeply evocative narration from Lemn Sissay – strangely mesmerising this and a welcome left field addition to the repertoire.

The Wilby ‘Concerto for Euphonium' finds the soloist on more familiar ground, although the performance retains its zestful, witty and playful feel in a reading of explosive virtuosity. Bach's ‘Sonata in C Major' arranged with splendid facility by Peter Meechan allows the soloist to deliver a performance of subtle nuance and exceptional control – especially in the final ‘Allegro' which is crystal clear in execution.

The highlight though is the performance of another Meechan work, ‘Requiem Paraphrases'. The composer and soloist have developed a mutually beneficial artistic partnership it seems and that has certainly flourished here with this cracking work. Based on small motifs from Mozart's ‘Requiem' it opens with a powerful almost aggressive intent that soon gives way to a lovely introspective theme and development of material that becomes increasingly elaborate in a percussion led 'Allegro'.

Darkly hued ideas flit back and forth before the soloist final emerges once more as the dislocated patterns and fragments final merge. A cadenza of true Paganini virtuosity then leads to a thrilling climax and conclusion. It's a brilliant performance of a brilliant new work for the instrument – perhaps both lads are in league with old Beelzebub as there is a dark, almost bitter intoxicating edge to it.

It rounds off a recording of excellence in scope and delivery from a truly virtuosi performer, which benefits also from fine accompaniment from Black Dyke and musical contributors, production values and choice of repertoire.

Iwan Fox

What's on this CD?

1. Devil's Duel, Peter Meechan, 8.15
2. Benediction, John Stevens, 3.32
3. Requiem Paraphrases, Peter Meechan, 9.31
4. So Deep is the Night, Frédéric Chopin arr. Alan Fernie, 3.25
5. Sonata in C Major BWV1033, J.S. Bach arr. Peter Meechan and David Thornton, 6.04
6. There Will Be God, Joy Webb arr. Richard Phillips, 4.52
7. Concerto for Euphonium, Philip Wilby, 18.12
8. My Mountain Top, Andy Scott, 8.35

Total playing time: 62.26

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