A fascinating quintet of mature compositions, performed with perceptive understanding makes this a truly distinctive release from Black Dyke.
The scope of the musical language expressed by Martin Ellerby, Philip Wilby, James Macmillan, Peter Graham and Alexander Comitas (Ed de Boer) may not encompass the extremes of brass band repertoire, yet there is little doubt it pushes towards its boundaries.
These though are master-craftsmen; with the skill to combine intuitive musicality and demanding technique without losing the sense of single minded purpose to their essentially melodic constructions.
Both conductors are equally informed interpreters – the result of which sees performances of exceptional quality; from the intense drama of ‘Electra’ and elegant melancholia of ‘Vita Aeterna Variations’, to the feral passion of ‘Canite Tuba’, evocative textures of ‘One Star: Sailing West’ and film noir delights of ‘Radio City’.
The featured soloists deliver malleable renditions of demanding works: Brett Baker expertly conjuring up the image of a down at heel Sam Spade picking his way through the sleazy mean-streets, clubs and race tracks of 1940’s America.
All this with the echo of a pastiche Raymond Chandler first person narrative, lazily drawled by Dale Gerrard, floating in his mind.
Meanwhile, Zoe Hancock’s tasteful appreciation of timbre and melodic line enables her to subtly layer the solo voice of Philip Wilby’s tranquil sailing trip that quickly becomes engulfed by a threatening, virtuosic squall.
The calm, reflective sense of relief found in safe harbour is beautifully evoked – although the disturbing anxieties remain in the undercurrent echoes of the digital delay.
The main ensemble works are superbly realised.
Martin Ellerby’s ‘Electra’ is full to the brim with obsessive angular menace.
Wickedly malevolent, it is an engrossing portrait of a schizoid sibling hell bent on murderous revenge, yet ravaged by feelings of remorse and loss. It is performed with wonderfully dark intent.
A more reflective, if equally personal sense of deep seated bereavement is to be found in Ed de Boer’s ‘Vita Aeterna Variations’; although in this case it is nature rather than nurture that claimed the life of a loved one.
However, this death stirs feeling of redemption rather than retaliation as the composer seeks a deeper understanding to his questioning theme of ‘eternal life’.
Written with a tender Edwardian restraint, it still sounds remarkably modern despite its obvious ‘retro’ feel, in what is a burnished, elegant interpretation by the MD and band.
In contrast, James MacMillan’s ‘Canite Tuba’ is a life affirming celebration; from the assertive energy of the Vesper antiphons and lilting miasma of the opening movement and central interlude, to the raw tribal chants of football terrace adoration to close.
Bold, breathless and beautiful in equal measure, it is given a performance of remarkable substance – and one that rather sums up the quality of this release as a whole.
Electra, Martin Ellerby
1. I. Lust for Revenge, 3.55
2. II. Laments, 6.35
3. III. Dance to Death, 2.55
4. One Star: Sailing West, Philip Wilby, Zoe Hancock (Flugel Horn), 12.11
5. Canite Tuba, James MacMillan, 16.24
Radio City, Peter Graham, Brett Baker (Trombone) and Dale Gerrard (Narration)
6. I. City Noir, 4.02
7. II. Cafe Rouge, 3.43
8. III. Two-Minute Mile, 2.22
Vita Aeterna Variations, Alexander Comitas
9. I. Introduction and Theme, 2.30
10. II. Variation I (Allegro energico), 0.58
11. III. Variation II (Tempo di valse in modo subdolo), 2.03
12. IV. Variation III (Allegro tempestouso), 2.19
13. V. Variation IV (Largo), 3.26
14. VI. Variation V (Adagio), 2.43
15. VII. Variation VI (Alla marcia), 1.53
16. VIII. Finale: Fugue and Apotheosis (Allegro vivace), 4.11