A Walk down Memory Lane

Addington Brass and Woolston Brass, James Hay Theatre, Christchurch Town Hall, New Zealand, Sunday 9th April, 2006.

It was indeed a walk down Memory Lane, this concert by Addington Brass and Woolston Brass, honouring Dave Christensen, Life Member of both bands, celebrating the 80th birthday of New Zealand’s greatest cornettist, who led the 1953 1962 and 1965 National Bands.

Looking down from the rear of the James Hay Theatre in the Christchurch Town Hall, grey heads predominated, everyone awaiting the musical feast to come that afternoon, Sunday 9th April 2006. The compere: Kevin Jarrett, Dave’s touring companion, friend and co-leader in 1965. Veteran National Bandsmen from one end of the Mainland to the other were everywhere in the audience of former players, band supporters and family and friends of Dave and Georgie Christensen.

Addington under the baton of Iaan Wilson began with Richard Strauss’ Festmusik der Stadt Wien, selected by Dave, as were all items on the programme. Then a particular favourite of his, Eric Ball’s Rhapsody on Negro Sprirituals. The Grand Lodge of New Zealand, recognizing his heralding at lodge installations all over Canterbury during more than fifty years, marked Dave’s many years of service to Freemasonry some years ago. What better tribute musically than a band arrangement of Dave’s own three fanfares, in one of which he incorporates a relic of 1953, that unmistakable clarion call from Hespe’s The Three Musketeers. The fanfares were arranged and conducted by the band’s artist in residence Barry Brinson.

Dave played in dance bands in Christchurch and North Canterbury for half a century, and so the next item brought to the stage veteran saxophonist Stu Buchanan, doyen of Canterbury jazz musicians, to join Dave in Jerome Kern’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, backed by the band. (again arranged and conducted by Barry Brinson.)

Trumpets Wild next, one of Edrich Siebert’s almost inconsequential trios which were popular years ago and featured by the 1953 National Band. Addington’s front row did Siebert proud, conducted by their resident baton, Iaan Wilson, formerly of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, who with Woolston’s David Gallaher is teaching the fledgling brass course at the University of Canterbury

Sir Malcolm Arnold wrote Padstow Lifeboat for that lifeboat’s crew on Cornwall’s wild north coast, complete with siren and soprano cornet obbligato; given spirited treatment by band and soprano both. Another of Dave’s chestnuts then, Rapee and Pollack’s immortal Charmaine, played in nostalgic mood. Addington’s tour de force, Capriccio Italien Opus 45 was inspired by the composer’s visit to Italy. Iaan Wilson gave a precise reading of the Denis Wright arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s flamboyant Caprice, the band giving a most convincing performance of an old favourite. Glen Miller’s signature tune Moonlight Serenade followed in appropriate style, with Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance to end the first half.

Kevin relayed many congratulatory messages from Manchester to Invercargill throughout the concert, laced with Jarrett stories, of which it must be said that strict truth is never allowed to interfere with a good story (!).

Enter Woolston under the baton of David Gallaher, with – what else? – Rimmer’s Knight of the Road. Robrecht’s Samum was discovered by chance during the 1953 National Band’s tour of the U.K., immediately incorporated in the band’s repertoire and so introduced to New Zealand. Woolston played it in K.G.L. Smith style, contrasted then by Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust in appropriately lazy vein. Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz next (surely a reminder of Fred Astaire?), then Woolston’s piece de resistance, Dean Goffin’s Rhapsody in Brass, largely written in Syria in 1943 when he and brother Norman were bandmaster and band sergeant respectively of the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade Band.

Of the many compositions from Dean’s pen, Rhapsody in Brass is his best-known secular work; test piece for the 1949 British Open and 1951 New Zealand Brass Band Championships, featured by both 1953 and 1962 National Bands and a unique New Zealand contribution to the library of major works for brass band. It was played with verve and precision, directed with strict control and economy of gesture by maestro Gallaher. The Woolston treatment evoked a vivid remembrance to this reviewer of Norman Goffin pinging off that top whatever it is in the third movement, ably repeated here by Woolston’s soprano, Colin Clark.

Both bands massed then for Dave Christensen’s favourite hymn, Les Francis’ arrangement of the beautiful Sine Nomine, directed by the young-at-heart Christensen himself.

Then to the lady beside Dave for every step of their considerable journey together. Seated among their six children, numerous grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, Georgie Christensen was presented with a large spray of flowers, to acclamation from all present. Then, to round off a truly memorable afternoon, the massed band played the final movement of Leon Boellmann’s Suite Gothique. Audiences in this country don’t often give standing ovations, but this one did, in honour of David Shadbolt Christensen QSM; musician, Freemason, gentleman and now octogenarian.

Denis Dewe
April 2006
4 Bars Rest