CD cover - SupremacySupremacy

31-Jul-2007

The International Staff Band of The Salvation Army
Conductor: Stephen Cobb
Trombone soloist: Dudley Bright
SP&S Ltd: SPS 228 CD
Total playing time: 65.34 mins

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Amongst the roles fulfilled by the International Staff Band are those of presenting new music to the Music Board prior to publication, and including new items in their programmes around the country, thus introducing the music to a wider audience.  That being the case, it comes as no surprise that their latest recording, “Supremacy”, should consist predominantly of fairly recent repertoire, with only Eric Ball’s classic “Songs in exile” coming from the vast heritage of music in the Salvation Army archives.

They open with “Concertante for Cornets and Band”, the first movement of a suite written by Stephen Bulla for the 1996 tour by the USA Southern Territorial Band.  Featuring an antiphonal cornet ensemble, it is based on J S Bach’s harmonisation of the “Passion Chorale” – “O sacred head, once wounded” – and demonstrates some good work by the band’s well-drilled team.

A number of pieces by Dutch Salvationist Olaf Ritman have been featured by the Amsterdam Staff Band, including his setting of “When I survey”.  It is based round the traditional folk tune “O waley, waley”, and is taken at a steady pace as befits the associated words.  The band’s trombone section – including on this occasion former member Stuart Hall, joining the current players Andrew Justice, Bradley Turnbull and Gordon Camsey – produces a well-balanced sound, both in the unison opening and when the music broadens out effectively into harmony.  The music’s end is quite striking, with an added ninth left unresolved in the final chord.

Another former member of the band is Brian Bowen, who played flugel for a number of years, and is now living and working in the USA.  “City of God” is a colourful setting of an old Salvation Army song by Robert Lowry.  William Pearson’s words tell of “Marching to Zion . . . the beautiful City of God”, but this is anything but a straightforward passage, with the treatment being somewhat reminiscent of Ray Steadman-Allen’s “King’s Minstrel” in the way in which it tends to slip off at a tangent, with unexpected harmonies and decoration, whilst remaining optimistic and positive.  Trombone glissandi towards the end, and the use of tubular bells, add to the feeling of celebration.

In “Songs in exile”, Eric Ball draws a comparison between the Christian’s life on earth, with Jesus’ exhortation that a Christian should be “in the world, but not of the world”, and the exile experienced by the Hebrews.  Just as they were encouraged to keep their eyes fixed on the Promised Land, so the Christian must remember that this life is but a preparation for what is to come.  The band’s sensitive interpretation includes some fine solo work, particularly from trombone and horn, and will please many who hanker after the somewhat more lyrical style of the music of yesteryear.

Until relatively recently, Salvation Army bands were limited to playing music published by the Army, or specifically approved for their use.  The majority of such music was composed or arranged by present or former Salvationists, with relatively few exceptions, perhaps the most notable being Ralph Vaughan Williams, who wrote his “Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn Tunes” after hearing a former incarnation of the ISB.  Joining that company is Rodney Newton, who wrote “The pilgrim’s progress” in 2003, dedicating it to the current ISB bandmaster, Stephen Cobb.  It is a series of variations on the tune “Pilgrim Song” which Eric Ball wrote for John Bunyan’s words “He who would valiant be”.   Drawing inspiration from “The Pilgrim’s Progress” itself, the composer depicts various episodes in Pilgrim’s journey, portraying a wide range of moods and emotions in the music.  With the modal character of the tune, the opening reminds one of Vaughan Williams’ own setting of the story, whilst there are prominent solo passages for soprano, euphonium and tuba.  The music retains the listener’s interest from start to finish, and it is to be hoped that its inclusion on the recording will lead to appearances on future ISB programmes.

Dean Jones is currently a member of the Salvation Army’s Music Ministries Department in London, and his first contribution to the disc is a lively setting of the contemporary song “He is the Lord”, written in Latin American style.  The band seems to enjoy the opportunity to (metaphorically at least!) let their hair down a little, and the cornets produce a fair imitation of the mariachi style in places.

Usually, ISB recordings feature their own members as soloists, but an exception has been made on this occasion with the inclusion of Dudley Bright playing his own composition “Life’s Command”.  It is by no means the first time he has performed with the band, and a recent British Bandsman article included a picture of the 14-year-old Dudley playing with the ISB in 1967.  Since then, he has progressed via the Halle and Philharmonia Orchestras to his present position, as Principal Trombone with the London Symphony Orchestra, maintaining his role as an active Salvationist bandsman, currently attending Regent Hall Corps.  Although he has had a number of pieces published, both instrumental and vocal, he regards himself “just as a trombone player who writes music”.  “Life’s Command” has been some time in coming, and follows request from ISB soloists over a number of years.  Based on the chorus “Follow, follow, I will follow Jesus”, the solo considers the challenge inherent in making such a commitment: after a wide-ranging original theme played by the soloist, the accompaniment includes the first reference to the chorus, in a recognisable form but more reflective in nature than usual.  Following exchanges between soloist and band, an unaccompanied cadenza, given plenty of room to breathe by the soloist, leads to the chorus “O I love Him, yes I love him”, with subtle backing from a small group of players.  As the band introduces further snippets of “Follow, follow” the music becomes more positive and optimistic, with considerable demands being placed on the soloist, reinforcing the commitment to “follow Jesus, anywhere, everywhere”.

Olaf Ritman’s second contribution is a scoring for band of a choral item written by Darren Bartlett.  Based round the words of Psalm 103, focussing on the need to praise the Lord, and of his supremacy, it is given the title “The Lord is gracious”.

One of the relatively small number of contemporary hymns to have featured in the BBC Songs of Praise Top Ten, “In Christ Alone”, by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty really seems to have caught the imagination.  With its positive words and stirring melody, not to mention the absence of the awkward syncopation that can so often prove an obstacle in congregational singing, it has quickly entered into wide-spread use.  It has made an effective euphonium solo, courtesy of Richard Phillips’ arrangement and Derick Kane’s exemplary performance, particularly in the last verse, as he soars above the band, although at this point the perspective between soloist and accompaniment sounds a little unnatural.

The final item, from which the recording takes its title, is another offering from the pen of Dean Jones.  “Supremacy” follows on from his popular “Glorifico Aeternum” in the way in which he successfully combines older hymn tunes, albeit frequently in an updated rhythm, with more contemporary material.  Commencing with the tune “Moscow” – “Come, thou almighty King” – he moves on to Paul Baloche & Lenny LeBlanc’s “Above all”, the words of which commence with the phrase ”Above all powers, above all kings”, emphasising the supremacy of Christ, whilst the chorus speaks of the sacrifice of the cross.   In the hands of the ISB the syncopated rhythms of the song, which can sometimes come across as being a little stilted, seem quite natural, whilst there are some effective surges of sound from cornets and trombones.  The final melody incorporated is the tune “Pembroke”, associated with words by William Booth, “My Lord who reigns supreme”, stressing God’s pre-eminence in the world.  Whilst perhaps not making quite the same impact as “Glorifico Aeternum”, Dean Jones has produced another valuable work which helps bridge the gap between the traditional and the contemporary, and shows that such music can transfer to the medium of the traditional brass band.

It will be seen that this theme runs through most of the items in the band’s well-chosen programme, highlighted by Trevor Davis’s helpful sleeve note.  With information also included on soloist, conductor and band, it makes for a well-presented offering from one of The Salvation Army’s premier ensembles, with something to interest both the Salvationist and the more general band enthusiast.

 

 

What's on this CD?

1. Concertante for Cornets and Band, Stephen Bulla, 3.53
2. When I Survey, Olaf Ritman, 5.13
3. City of God, Brian Bowen, 3.05
4. Songs in Exile, Eric Ball, 7.52
5. The Pilgrim's Progress, Rodney Newton, 13.49
6. Él Es El Señor Dean Jones, 2.37
7. Life's Command, Dudley Bright, Dudley Bright (Trombone), 13.10
8. The Lord is Gracious, Darren Bartlett arr. Olaf Ritman, 2.39
9. In Christ Alone, Keith Getty & Stuart Townend arr. Richard Phillips, Derick Kane (Euphonium), 3.33
10. Supremacy, Dean Jones, 8.57

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