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City of London Symphonic Winds

A Richer Dust
Conductors: David Smith; Lt Col Stuart Watts, OBE (narrator)
St Sepulchre-without-Newgate
Saturday 11th November

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month, City of London Symphonic Winds presented a Remembrance-themed concert with the second half devoted to Nigel Clarke's 'A Richer Dust', which was introduced by the composer and librettist.

Lament and fanfare

Edwin Roxburgh's two movement 'Time's Harvest' opened with a 'Lament for the victims of 20th century conflict', a plaintive soprano sax melody set against slowly shifting woodwind harmonies. Whilst the music grew in volume and intensity as the brass and percussion were added, the pace remained slow and deliberate. 

Gentle woodwind flourishes were heard before the brass became dominant, the horns with their bells in the air. A solo trumpet introduced the 'Fanfare for the future'; a more optimistic outlook but still surrounded by turmoil, with the tonal clashes only being dispelled in the closing bars.

Eric Whitacre's 'Sleep' was transcribed from the choral original. Generally restful in nature, underpinned by the chiming of tubular bells, such dissonance as there was remained restrained, as the music died away like the ending of 'Neptune' in Holst’s 'Planets'.

Challenging work

Nigel Clarke's moving symphony for wind orchestra was inspired by a picture depicting a scene in which the dust in the picture represented the dead. The librettist draws from various sources to consider the impact not only of war, but such atrocities as terrorism and torture on both the victims and their families.

Lt Col Stuart Watts, who played fanfare trumpet at the Coronation and rose to the top of military music-making, did a sterling job of putting the words across, also blowing an authentic WW1 trench whistle at key moments.

Lt Col Stuart Watts, who played fanfare trumpet at the Coronation and rose to the top of military music-making, did a sterling job of putting the words across, also blowing an authentic WW1 trench whistle at key moments.

It is a very draining work for both players and listeners, incorporating important parts for cellos, double basses and piano, with many woodwind players having solo features. The players also join the narrator in speaking or whispering the text, as well as tapping their stands with various domestic utensils.

Dropped buttonholes

At the end of the finale, 'The larks still bravely singing', as each player stopped playing, they dropped their red buttonholes on the floor, remaining motionless with heads bowed until all that remained was the drone of the cellos and basses. 

There was a pause of several minutes before the applause eventually broke out. An appropriate end to a concert of deep thoughtfulness. 

Peter Bale



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