Nigel Clarke stands apart in the modern world of brass band composition.
His works are as deft and subtle as they are bold and brilliant; the music drawn from a capacious intellectual hinterland that encompasses the satirical sharpness of Jonathan Swift and the allegorical darkness of Herman Melville.
Pen and the Sword
Clarke’s compositional pen is mightily more creative in producing substantive works than the blunt edged swords so many contemporaries currently bludgeon us with in major championship test pieces.
The dystopian brilliance of ‘When Worlds Collide’ (or Little Green Men in Intergalactic spaceships with Rayguns and Phasers), is ostensibly a homage to the bizarre 1950’s sci-fi B movies.
It is also a fantastical political polemic of a bypassed generation’s misinformed understanding of all things ‘alien’.
Replace ‘The Blob’ with Brussels and the ‘Mysterians’ with the minions of Maastricht, and as Martin Westlake’s disturbingly witty poem suggests, we may have already been conquered and colonised from afar.
Swift would be delighted. We are all Europeans now.
‘Earthrise’ also asks the listener to ponder on all our futures.
The iconic image taken by the astronauts of Apollo 8 of a luminescent globe floating amid eternal Bible blackness – ‘The Good Earth’ as they described it, still has the ability to resonate even with a modern day generation grown bored of non sci-fi lunar travel.
Not so the composer (born in 1960) who recreates the sense of raw excitement and wonderment of the era of Saturn rocket blast offs and splashdown returns with alluring vibrancy.
As they do throughout this double CD, Buizingen (this time in a live performance from the 2010 Europeans) deliver his sparkling inventiveness superbly.
Soloists, Glenn Van Looy and Harmen Vanhoorne, perform the brace of featured concertos with a staggering level of virtuosity without for a moment losing touch with the musical core of the immense works.
Both ‘The City in the Sea’ and ‘Mysteries of the Horizon’ have subtle elements of allegory in their DNA.
The former is a ghostly tale of nature’s destructiveness of medieval village life – one that has echoes of the economic tsunami of despair that afflicts so many isolated communities today.
The latter relates to the questioning, quizzical response the Belgian artist Magritte manages to instil in our thought processes towards seemingly non-descript imagery.
Drama and capricious fate
As if to enclose the composer’s immense skill set, the CD opens and closes with works of evocative drama and capricious fate.
‘Tilbury Point’ is a colourful portrait of the buccaneering pirate Captain Kidd, whose entrepreneurial escapades ended with him swinging from the end of a noose – his flagellated corpse dipped in tar and hung as a warning to others at the mouth of the River Thames.
The music (performed live at the 2009 WMC in Kerkrade) echoes the lilting meter of Martin Westlake’s poetry like the pendulous swing of the Captain’s horrifically caged final resting place.
‘Swift Severn’s Flood’ is also a brooding tale of demise – this time Owain Glyndwr’s ultimately futile attempt to conquer the pernicious forces of Henry IV after series of Welsh cross border skirmishes.
The Shakespearian poetry cannot be bettered – and neither can the playing.
With outstanding performances by Brass Band Buizingen directed with commanding authority by Luc Vertommen, enhanced by the wonderful poetry (which you can also download off the second disc) and Frank Renton’s nuanced narration, this double CD is one of the finest, intellectually engaging recordings for many a year.
Nigel Clarke does indeed stand apart in the modern world of brass band composition – and this release proves it in full.
Long may he continue to do so.
1. A quotation from Henry IV, William Shakespeare, Frank Renton (Speaker), 0.57
2. Swift Severn's Flood, Nigel Clarke,Brass Band Buizingen, 14.19
3. The City in the Sea, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker),1.37
4. The City in the Sea, Nigel Clarke, Glenn Van Looy (Euphonium) with Brass Band Buizingen, 16.15
5. Earthrise, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker), 1.56
6. Earthrise, Nigel Clarke, Brass Band Buizingen, 16.37
1. Earth versus the Flying Saucers, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker), 3.37
2. When Worlds Collide, Nigel Clarke, Brass Band Buizingen, 19.30
3. Mysteries of the Horizon, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker), 1.04
Mysteries of the Horizon, Nigel Clarke, Harmen Vanhoorne (Cornet) with Brass Band Buizingen
4. I. The Menaced Assassin, 6.50
5. II. The Dominion of Light, 2.23
6. III. The Flavour of Tears, 7.18
8. Tilbury Point — Captain Kidd, Martin Westlake, Frank Renton (Speaker), 2.02
9. Tilbury Point — A Portrait Overture, Nigel Clarke, Brass Band Buizingen, 5.25