Foden's has certainly found the knack of producing high quality recordings in a variety of musical styles in recent years.
A lineage that includes 'Rococo Variations', 'A World Within' and 'Dreaming of the Masters' is now joined by ‘Masquerade’ – the latest example of the Sandbach band on the very top of their form.
The pairing of Allan Withington and Howard Snell at the helm of the 2012 British Open champion is an aficionado’s treat too; master craftsmen blessed with the rarest gene of musical DNA to illuminate as well as elucidate the most complex of musical scores.
The result is an outstanding release featuring contrasting works that span close on a century of compositional output; from the earliest, John Ireland’s whimsical ‘Comedy Overture’, via the austere beauty of Heaton’s, ‘Partita’ and the vibrant character portraiture of Wilby’s ‘Masquerade', to the thoughtful intellectual questioning of Maurice Hamer’s ‘The Power of the Soul’.
Allan Withington takes the lead on the brace of modern test pieces, providing the listener with sumptuous readings of insight and texture, whilst Howard Snell casts his wonderfully defined eye onto ‘Comedy’ and ‘Partita’ to bring their subtle nuance and refined musicality into startling focus.
‘Masquerade’s’ fearsome technical challenges are impressively engaged by the performers, with the solo lines in particular delivered with an elegant nonchalance and just the right hint of rich, bluff Falstaff bravado.
The protagonist’s carapace of bombastic self assuredness is revealed as nothing more than comedic folly in a wonderfully paced finale that captures his eventual, joyful ‘mea culpa’ to perfection.
In contrast, Maurice Hamer's deeply personal work is performed with an acute awareness of emotional sensibility in a reading that offers an enquiring musicality to its esoteric themes of death, turmoil, duality and rebirth.
As a result, it fully engages both the mind as well as the heart.
Howard Snell’s beautifully structured interpretation of John Ireland’s acerbic 1930’s London snapshot is a joy; fresh, witty, inviting and transparent – as if he has lifted the musical smog that other conductors invariably leave to cloyingly smother the score.
However, it is his masterful understanding and the band’s superb delivery of Heaton's 'Partita' that is the brilliantly cut musical gemstone of the release.
Each of the four movements is drafted with an intuitive appreciation of the purist’s adherence to form and function, yet they are executed with a sublime sense of musicianship.
It is a definitive performance in every sense of the word.
Recorded soon after their wonderful performance at the 2012 RNCM Festival of Brass in Manchester and released on the day they claimed the British Open title, this is a recording to savour from a band and a brace of conductors at the very zenith of their musical powers.
1. Comedy Overture, John Ireland, 11.44
2. Masquerade, Philip Wilby, 12.42
3. The Power of the Soul, Maurice Hamers, 16.27
Partita, Wilfred Heaton
4. I. Prelude, 5.24
5. II. Scherzo, 6.37
6. III. Canzona, 8.24
7. IV. Rondo, 5.46