The hugely positive impact of Noord-Limburgse Brass Band on the European contesting scene in recent years has certainly added an extra dimension to the competitive excellence of a Belgian brass band movement that continues to grow in impressive maturity.
Under the remarkable Ivan Meylemans, the band from the north Belgian province that bears its name has become the latest major championship contender more than capable of taking on, and beating the very best in the world: In partuclar, their performances at the 2012 Europeans in Rotterdam rubber stamped their elite credentials.
This high quality release adds further weight of substance to that contesting pedigree.
The major works performed with such imposing musicality may well be religiously inspired - but these particular biographical lives of the dark angel ‘Abaddon’ and the kindly ‘Saint Magnus’ could well have been penned by Stephen King and Enid Blyton, let alone Kevin Houben and Kenneth Downie.
Houben’s viscerally dramatic portrait is that of a lost, despising soul - destined by heavenly expulsion to forever lead those who have made a pact with the Devil on trips around the less salubrious mystical bogs of the Limburgse forests: A bit like Dorian Gray meeting up with a cross between Caliban and George Michael.
It’s cracking stuff; an unworldly, chimera of a piece, imbued with a sense of foreboding and tension, as if at any time Abaddon will simply relish the chance to push the last vestiges of humanity that linger in the spirit of his poor travelling companion, into hell’s abyss. It also bears the unmistakable mark - not of 666, but of a very good test piece.
In contrast, ‘St Magnus’ is portrayed with such an optimistic lightness of touch that it is an almost evangelical interpretation of such a demanding, brow beating score. The complex layers of detail and dislocated rhythmic structures are seamlessly blended, with a sense of purpose and drive allowing the performance to find a naturally inspired climax of hope and glory.
The MDs ability to elicit such diverse stylistic playing from his talented band is a rare gift - one that is shown amply with the tender lyricism of ‘The Water is Wide’ and the polished brio of ‘Temple 125’, whilst the accompaniment to Turrin’s playful ‘Fandango’ duet makes for a subtle complement rather than a more distant nod of appreciation to the excellent Pieter Houben and Lode Smeets.
Suffice to say, David Thornton is on the very top of his form with Peter Meechan’s ‘Origins’ euphonium concerto; performing such a demanding work with rare artistry.
It leaves just enough time for a bobby dazzler ‘Grand Fanfare’ - which seems to bounce with glee between the musical cowboy country of 1890’s West Virginia and the camp gangland of 1950’s ‘West Side Story’, and Jan Van Der Roost’s more seriously intoned ‘Trittico Festoso’, which is delivered with stentorian fortitude.
All in all it adds up to a release that confirms Noord-Limburgse and their MD as a musical partnership of significant heavyweight musical substance and enjoyment.
1. Grand Fanfare, Giancarlo Castra d'Abbona, 7.06
Origins, Peter Meechan, Euphonium soloist David Thornton
2. I, Origins, 5.32
3. II, Harry's Song, 5.35
4. III, Discovery, 6.27
5. Abaddon, Kevin Houben, 14.13
6. Fandango, Joseph Turrin, arr. Luc Vertommen, Cornet soloist Pieter Houben, 6.35
7. The Water is Wide, Traditional, arr. Andrew Duncan, 3.00
8. St-Magnus, Kenneth Downie, 14.29
9. Trittico Festivo, Jan Van Der Roost, 9.20
10. Temple 125, Kevin Larson, 2.52