CD cover - Music for Battle CreekMusic for Battle Creek


Dyke go into Battle mode with some pretty spectacular results too. The Sparkes are flying quite brilliantly at times too...

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Black Dyke Band
Conductor: Dr. Nicholas J. Childs
Soloists: Joseph Cook, Brett Baker
Anglo Records: CDAR022-3
Total Playing Time: 70.38

The music of Philip Sparke has provided the backdrop to the competitive lives of nearly every bandsperson in the brass band movement for the last 25 years or more. 

And you do wonder what gap would have been created in the development of contesting as well as concert repertoire if at the Royal College of Music he hadn’t taken a fancy to writing brass band music, as his undoubted talents would surely have seen him make a huge name for himself in other genres.

Thankfully he opted for brass (although he has also developed an equally impressive CV in other musical fields) and we should be eternally grateful that he did. From his first ‘Concert Prelude’ to his latest test pieces, his innate sense of accessible musicality has thrilled players and audiences alike. It would have been one heck of a hole to fill.

Nearly all of his output for brass band has been recorded by the great and the good – as well as the not so great but equally enthusiastic at all levels and in all countries. His music crosses international barriers like no other for brass – its polyglot nature seemingly at home in the band rooms of Japan, Norway, USA or even in Queensbury, in the heartland of Yorkshire.

And a cross section of that eclectic output is what we get here with Black Dyke performing many of his latest works, from the Whit Friday contest march ‘The Conqueror’, through his  ‘Tuba Concerto’ and onto two of his more recent test pieces used at major Championship contests.

The opening march ‘The Conqueror’ may have a bit of twisted logic about its title (Philip’s excellent sleeve notes indicate a slightly tongue in cheek tribute) but it is a true old fashioned tub thumper that would be easily recognisable as a classic of its type if William Rimmer’s name appeared next to it. 

The same goes for the slightly more openly pastiche ‘Royal Salute’, an easy going concert march targeted at the inspiring rather than inspired levels of the banding tree.

The two main soloists are in fine fettle with a robust performance of the ‘Tuba Concerto’ by Joseph Cook and colourful samba inspired ‘Sambezi’ played fluidly by Brett Baker.    

The composer’s gift for beautifully crafted lyricism is heard to fine effect with the touching ‘A Quiet Moment’ written in memory of James Phillip Krofta, whilst the most interesting work comes in the form of ‘The Saga of Haakon the Good’.

This work was commissioned by Frei Hornmusikk Band in Norway at the beginning of 2008 and was used by them at the Norwegian National Championships in Bergen in the Fourth Section. It’s classic Sparke – full of excitement and colour, rhythmic pulse and drive, wit and lyricism – a little gem of a work that will surely find its way across the North Sea to the competitive climes of the UK banding scene.

At the other end of the ladder comes the two major test pieces – although ‘Music for Battle Creek’ is first and foremost one heck of a tour de force showpiece concert work for a very special band that carries the title’s name. 

First though comes ‘Dances & Alleluias’ written for the inaugural English Nationals in 2006. For this reviewer it is a disappointment; almost too predictable despite its high gloss finish, superbly crafted yet lacking any truly memorable content. The final lip sapping cornet solo seems misplaced and unnecessarily complex, whilst many of the ‘Dances’ are underdeveloped and lacking his usual lightness of touch.  

You can admire it but not fall in love with it. 

Strangely, the tour de force that is ‘Music for Battle Creek’ can also leave you unmoved too.  Despite a fine performance by Black Dyke (as are the other pieces on the release) with a veritable hat full of bravura playing on show both from soloists and ensemble, it seems almost too deliberate a ‘show boater’ to touch the raw emotions in your heart.

Everyone has something to do just about all the time, (with a band such as Battle Creek it is a crime to waste their talents) but it does make for an over busy, heavily scored work that at occasionally starts to feel like your senses are being pummelled by technical brilliance.   

That said it does rip your lungs out, especially at the end and it did prove to be a tremendous test of character when it was used at the National Finals.

It rounds off an impressive release – from the quality of the performances to the post production processes. You wouldn’t expect anything less from such a great composer and band.

Iwan Fox

What's on this CD?

1. The Conqueror, Philip Sparke, 3.02
2. Tuba Concerto, Philip Sparke, Joe Cook (Tuba)
3. i. Lento, 8.26
4. ii. Allegro, 4.30
Dances and Alleluias, Philip Sparke
6. i. Allegro, 3.38
7. ii. Andante, 3.54
8. iii. Vivace, 2.31
9. iv. Andante, 4.27
10. A Quiet Moment, Philip Sparke, 4.14
The Saga of Haakon the Good Philip Sparke
12. i. The Future King, 1.42
13. ii. The Journey to Trondheim, 3.24
14. iii. The Missionary King, 5.14
15. iv. The Battle of Rastarkalv, 3.10
16. Royal Salute, Philip Sparke, 4.48
17. Sambezi, Philip Sparke, Brett Baker (Trombone), 6.05
Music for Battle Creek Philip Sparke
19. i. Prelude and Toccata, 6.00
20. ii. Elegy, 5.11
21. iii. Rondo Finale, 3.40

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