CD cover - Vienna Nights – Music by Philip WilbyVienna Nights – Music by Philip Wilby


Black Dyke Band
Conductor: Dr Nicholas Childs
Doyen Recordings: DOYCD210
Total Playing Time: 65.37

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Philip Wilby is currently the last link in a compositional chain of great post war composers for brass band that initially bore the musical assay mark of Eric Ball. In subsequent years that chain has incorporated the likes of Vinter, Gregson, Howarth, McCabe, Heaton and Sparke to varying degrees of tempered brilliance.

The scope of his output is eclectic, whilst his ability to master differing genres is perhaps unsurpassed for the medium. Wilby has brought new colour, texture, balance and timbre to us in a way many thought was close to impossible. He is an alchemist with the ability to turn base musical metal into 24 carat gold, whilst also being able to act as a prism that both reflects and refracts his musical inspiration to such startlingly telling effect.
That said, not all his major works for brass band have been of the purest quality, whilst others have been created in forms that have not readily found great appeal.  Some have become almost instant classics, whilst others have fallen by the wayside, victims perhaps of comparative analysis in relation to the impossibly high standards he himself set from ‘The New Jerusalem' onwards.   

He is of course not alone in this: The brass band movement is a rapacious open cast miner of rich musical seams and even the likes of Eric Ball were left at times to produce exhausted output of varying quality – especially test pieces. Not all his works moved you like ‘Resurgam' or thrilled you like ‘Festival Music'.

This release however places four of Wilby's later works for brass in their correct context, and more crucially, reveal a composer who has benefited greatly from his own decision to take time away from writing for a medium that can insist on a very prescribed compositional output to satisfy its own personal demands – especially in test piece form.

The music spans a seven year period between 1999 and 2006 although they in fact book end a five year ‘fallow' period as Wilby calls it between ‘...Dove Descending' (1999) and ‘Music for the Moving Image' (2004). Each work has been recorded before – notably by Black Dyke in nearly all cases, although this is the first complete release solely of this music by them.

'...Dove Descending' takes inspiration from TS Elliot's ‘Little Gidding', celebrating the coming of Christ. As with many of Wilby's works with personal religious inspiration it is immensely contrasting in its musical picture. There is an almost Methodist inspired simplicity to the beautiful ‘Nativity' section which is in striking comparison to the High Church feeling of the baroque fanfares, vibrant colour, splendour and iconic imagery that is so powerfully felt in the outer movements that herald and eventually proclaim Christ's' arrival.

'Northern Lights' meanwhile reveals a subtle and affectionate historical portrait that although scored to include the interaction of dancers in its original version does allow for a satisfying feeling of drama and lyricism in this, its more opaque brass band test piece form.

So too ‘Music for the Moving Image', a ‘character piece' as the composer describes it, but one that once more reveals a very personal appreciation of the art form of cinematography from an age when there was an almost illusionary naivety to what was produced by the great early movie companies. The imagery is detailed and colourful, multi layered, yet ideally balanced to project subtle timbres and nuance when performed to such excellent effect as it is here. You can feel the sense of scope and imagination at work, of the natural beauty of a land in the far west of the USA that an amazing industry reflected in its formative years of output.  

Finally, ‘Vienna Nights' - and perhaps Wilby's finest work to date for the medium. This is Mozart brought to life in a way that no other composer for brass could approach. The mixture of genres, the intuitive appreciation of the style and the ability to compliment true genius with a deep felt and personal appreciation is a startling achievement.  It is a masterful work that in turn envelopes and intrigues, cajoles, subdues with sly wit and pathos and finally, and breathtakingly thrills the living pants off you in a way Mozart himself would have surely been tickled pink of. 

All the performances are of the very highest class from Black Dyke under the direction Dr Nicholas Childs.   The close working relationship between the band, conductor and the composer is reflected in superbly executed performances, all of which are technically and musically projected with such stylish intent. Morley Town Hall provides an acoustic that suits the works well, with enough resonance to almost boil the blood when at full throttle, yet delicate enough to allow for true balances to be revealed at the other end of the dynamic spectrum.  

The production values too are of the same quality, (although we do wonder about the composers hair in his picture!) the programme notes are enlightening and give you that extra bit of understanding that illuminates the superb music even more. It is a recording of rare excellence from start to finish.

Iwan Fox.

What's on this CD?

1. Dove Descending, Philip Wilby, 18.01
2. Northern Lights, Philip Wilby, 12.31
3. Music for the Moving Image, Philip Wilby, 19.20
4. Vienna Nights, Philip Wilby, 15.57

Total playing time: 65.37

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