CD cover - Building with BrassBuilding with Brass

8-Aug-2004

Tredegar Town Band
Conductors: Russell Gray and Steve Bastable
Soloists: Natalie Gibson, Darren Thomas, Andrea Lewis, Julian Kerrell, Darren Morris, Iwan Fox, Wilfred Driscoll, Steve Legge
Amadeus Recordings: AMS CD 073

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Respect. That's what it's all about in any competitive field: respect from your rivals, respect from your peers, respect from your audience. It is the one thing that is the hardest to gain, yet the easiest to lose.

Winning titles and prize money brings out the emulous element in all of us, yet the intangible X factor that means the most to any competitor, is respect. On any given day, anyone can win a competition, however important, yet victory itself will never be a passport to gaining the genuine admiration and approbation from your fellow adversaries and followers of your chosen field.

Just think of last year's British Open Golf Championship. Who can now remember who the winner was? A year on from his greatest triumph, Ben Curtis was walking around Troon as Open Champion but with a gallery a tenth the size of players who hadn't even come close to winning the old claret jug. It was all down to respect - the likes of Montgomerie and Mickleson had it, Ben Curtis and that other past winner, Paul Lawrie didn't.  The latter may have a major title each to their name, but unlike the former, neither has the major respect to go with it. It is the same with the brass band world.

This is what makes the achievements of bands such as Tredegar all the more admirable. They are of course not alone - the tradition of non sponsored community based bands is an honourable and historic one in the banding world, but the number of these bands that can compete at the very highest level successfully has become minute over the years. Brighouse are of course the most striking example, yet Tredegar remain a beacon to others of what can be achieved by hard work, a professional outlook and an ability to identify and nurture both playing and conducting talent. They have yet to win either of the major championships (although they have three runners up places in the past ten years), but they have won a huge amount of admiration, and crucially, that all important level of respect from their rivals as well as the audiences at these contests for the level of performances they have produced over the years.  If they can do it, so can others. 

This release entitled, Building with Brass confirms that the hard earned respect based on those performances over the past decade at the top most level is not misplaced.  This may be a lightweight, easy listening release aimed at promotion rather than musical statement, but it remains a fine example of the genre. The tracks have been carefully selected to appeal to a possible new audience (the release was sponsored in partnership with a regional Welsh Building Society to appeal to their customer base) and so the mix is of the new and the old, favourites of stage and screen with a bit of the traditional and something customary to entice new fans to banding world as well. It is an intelligent mix and match by the band's MD, Russell Gray and it makes for a very pleasant 66 minutes or so of listening. 

The 15 tracks feature no less than eight of the bands soloists, all of whom produce quality performances on their given repertoire, whilst there is the added bonus of hearing the last two movements of the band's runners up performance at the 2003 National Finals, where many thought they had just about done enough to claim their first major title. That wasn't to be, but the performance of "Nimrod" and the "Finale" from Enigma Variations is a real corker under the baton Steve Bastable (someone who's current reputation as one of the new breed of exciting conducting talents was nurtured with Tredegar).

The big screen stuff is very well handled with an atmospheric "Harry Potter" complete with spooky Celeste opening, and a stern sand and sandals "Gladiator" - all togas and trouble at the Coliseum with Russell Crowe's stubble in evidence as well as a thwacking great bit of anvil playing. Steve McQueen and his failed attempt at becoming a 1942 version of Evil Kinevil is recalled the March from the "Great Escape" (funny, but as only two got out, it wasn't that great at all was it?) whilst there is a very controlled rendition of "Dundonnell" from Hymn of the Highlands, which has just the right feel of waving sporrans and Celtic mayhem.

The soloists respond very well to their chosen material, with the highlight a quite outstanding bit of tenor horn playing by Natalie Gibson  (sister of Robert Westacott of the Hepworth Band) on "Over the Rainbow" and fine performances from Darren Thomas on "Nessun Dorma" and Andrea Lewis on "Children of Sanchez".  One of tomorrow's possible star bass players, Wilfred Driscoll enjoys himself immensely on "Teddy Bears Picnic" complete with a very clever "spot the tune" cadenza, whilst the bands experienced euphonium player Darren Morris displays a very lyrical sense of delivery with "Be My Love".

In addition there is some adroitly fruity bass trombone playing from Julian Kerrell in "Hall of the Mountain King", which benefits greatly from some cracking percussion playing, whilst Steve Legge is a controlled and stylish voice on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square". 

The ensemble highlights though are "Here's that Rainy Day" by Adrian Drover which gives the band the chance to show off it warm well balanced and rounded tone and those two movements from Enigma Variations which were recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall. There is a real Elgarian sense of style in the Nimrod with a lovely shape to the music, whilst the Finale just tails off towards the end with the winning post for the band in sight. A tad more stamina and perhaps Tredegar's name would have been engraved on the famous old pot - it was a quite outstanding effort though. 

This is not cutting edge stuff by any means - but it is a release with a specific purpose very much in mind (building and securing some extra brass for a non sponsored band), so no complaints for the general approach - light and breezy, good quality easy listening material, well chosen, neatly performed and very well directed. What it does show though to all and sundry is that this is a band that has worked harder than a Welsh collier to gain that hard earned respect. That it has done so is testament to qualities that many other bands also have in abundance. What they have done though, is maintained it over what is now a long period of time, and it is that which has given them the respect from their rivals, peers and the audiences in the banding world.

Iwan Fox

What's on this CD?

1. March from the Great Escape, Elmer Bernstein arr. Martin Ellerby, 2.06
2. Gladiator, Hans Zimmer arr. Klaas van der Woude, 5.34
3. Over the Rainbow, Arlen and Harburg arr. Goff Richards, 4.14
Soloist: Natalie Gibson
4. Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, John Williams arr. Andy Duncan, 4.24
5. Nessun Dorma, Puccini arr. Keith Wilkinson, 2.54
Soloist: Darren Thomas
6. Children of Sanchez, Chuck Mangione arr. Reid Gilje, 6.14
Soloist: Andrea Lewis
7. Here's that Rainy Day, Adrian Drover, 2.48
8. In the Hall of the Mountain King, arr. Bill Geldard, 3.20
Soloist: Julian Kerell
9. Be My Love, N. Brodsky/S. Cahn arr. Ray Farr, 3.18
Soloist: Darren Morris
10. Memory, arr. Alan Catherall, 4.14
Soloist: Iwan Fox
11. Dundonnell from Hymn of the Highlands, Philip Sparke, 6.27
12. Teddy Bears Picnic, John Bratton arr. Stephen Roberts, 5.04
Soloist: Wilfred Driscoll
13. A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square, arr. Howard Snell, 5.39
Soloist: Steve Legge
14. Enigma Variations, Edward Elgar arr. Eric Ball
a) Nimrod, 3.56
b) Finale, 5.29

Total Playing Time: 66.50

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