In the unlikely event that hard evidence were still needed of Philip Harper’s influence on the Cory Band since his arrival in 2012, then this eagerly awaited first CD release of major works by the European, National and Brass in Concert champion under the MD provides it in spades.
From the clever (if occasionally tenuous) unification of five seemingly diverse works through the medium of literature, to the surging passion, drama and at times staggering textural detail and transparency that permeates every bar, Philip Harper’s personal musical DNA is stamped indelibly on both the programme and performances.
In a welcome revival of George Lloyd's final brass band work, ‘King’s Messenger’, the literary connection is the Chinese ‘Book of Odes’, thought to have been compiled by the philosopher Confucius.
It’s an incident packed work that although often overlooked in comparison to the major works in his brass band canon, ‘English Heritage’ and ‘Diversions on a Bass Theme', deserves to be heard more often.
The text’s vivid, evocative depiction of galloping horses is brought vividly to life in a performance that bristles with momentum and sharply defined rhythmic incident.
At nearly nineteen minutes duration, Christopher Harrington's ‘Concerto for Tenor Horn’ - ‘Paradise Lost’ (the literary connection of John Milton is also shared with John Pickard’s ‘Eden’) is a work that places extreme demands on the technique and stamina of even such an outstanding soloist as Owen Farr.
The work’s Manchester premiere during the 2013 Festival of Brass was plagued by balance problems, but with the benefit of a studio recording and scoring that has since been pared down to some degree, the piece now makes a more substantive impression.
The inherently melodic nature of Harringon’s music is such that it is likely to appeal strongly to brass band audiences, but it is the soloist’s exhilarating delivery that leaves such a stamp of musical authority.
The clarity of his articulation and sheer joie de vivre that is displayed ensures that the listener’s attention is held for the full span of a work that represents a major addition to the instrument’s repertoire.
Brave and inspired
After the technical fireworks, the decision to close the disc in contemplative fashion with Eric Ball's ‘Resurgam’ is both brave and inspired.
Although there is an occasional lack of urgency to the more anguished passages, the sublime evocation of the final climax and ultimate mood of acceptance is played out with touching reverence.
Yet even by Cory’s stratospheric standards, there are two performances here that emerge as very special indeed.
Howard Snell’s almost miraculous treatment (to call it merely an arrangement is to do it an injustice) of Ravel’s ‘Second Suite’ from ‘Daphnis and Chloe’ is given a ravishing interpretation that in its sensuousness delivery embodies the essence of its literary inspiration, Longus’s ancient Greek novel of young, unbridled love.
The remarkable transparency and balance achieved allows every detail to be heard, but it is the intensity and rapt beauty of the atmosphere created that beguiles.
From the brilliantly executed birdsong and radiant sunrise of the opening to the languid central ‘Pantomime’ and the breathless excitement of the final dance, here played at a persuasively moderated tempo, it is a remarkable demonstration of technical brilliance and interpretative insight.
The sense of architecture and scale that the band brings to John Pickard's ‘Eden’ is no less impressive in a monumental performance that not only impresses as a technical tour de force but also serves to underline the work's status as a modern masterpiece of the brass band repertoire.
It all adds up to a disc that showcases the banding world’s undisputed number 1 ranked band at the very pinnacle of its powers.
1. Daphnis and Chloe (Second Suite), Maurice Ravel, arr. Howard Snell, 15.34
2. King's Messenger, George Lloyd, 11.58
3. Paradise Lost — Concerto for Tenor Horn, David Harrington, Soloist Owen Farr (Tenor Horn), 18.42
4. Eden, John Pickard, 14.33
5. Resurgam, Eric Ball, 12.55