Addington Brass in Christchurch Cathedral
Friday July 22nd at 7.30 pm
Conductor: Iaan J Wilson , Trumpet Soloist:Sarah Wilson , Compeer: Owen Meluish. Reviewed by Barry Brinson.
In its alter ego as Cathedral Brass, the band has several opportunities each year to play in the Cathedral, supporting the congregation, choir, and organ in large civic services and ceremonial occasions. The Band’s annual feature concert in the Cathedral usually includes the organ in some spectacular Brass and Organ items, but this year, the organ has been out of action for three months undergoing a comprehensive overhaul. As no guarantee could be given that it would be ready on time, the band had to revert to an all-brass programme, made up mainly of arrangements of popular classical orchestral pieces.
The band was under the firm direction of Iaan Wilson, a recent arrival in Christchurch from the U.K. with an impressive pedigree of professional symphonic orchestral experience. This shows in the band’s marked improvement in matters of tuning and blend, sectional and overall balance. Being seated at floor level, instead of in the elevated choir stalls area did have some affect on the clarity of sound, as well as restricting the audience’s view.
The programme kicked off with a snappy rendition of the Berlioz Hungarian March , from the “Damnation of Faust” – just as effective in a brass band arrangement as in its orchestral original. The second item, Air from a Suite by J.S.Bach – known popularly as “Air on the G String” – is rarely successful in full brass band arrangements. It is much more effective with a smaller ensemble, as many recordings by such groups as Canadian Brass, and Philip Jones Brass ensemble amply testify.
The featured soloist for this evening was Sarah Wilson, who, as well as being Associate Principal Trumpet of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, also happens to be married to this evening’s conductor! A happy coincidence indeed. Her performance of the well known Haydn Trumpet Concerto in Eb – played of course on the authentic orchestral trumpet, was exemplary and extremely stylish., with a lovely tone, phrasing, and meticulous attention to detail. The accompaniment, originally written for a smaller 18th century orchestra, was in places, somewhat overscored in its brass band realization, and because of the similarity of all-brass sound, tended to overshadow the soloist. I longed for the relief of the solo cadenza passages, and wished they could have lasted longer – they were so beautifully played. Altogether a classy performance. I must also mention that Sarah later slipped unobtrusively into the vacant soprano cornet chair, and played the soprano part on her Eb trumpet, bringing an altogether stunning lustre to the cornet section and the band overall.
In view of the fact that the organ was out of commission, it was surprising to find the Finale from Saint-Saens’ 3rd Symphony in the programme, since this is well known as the “Organ” Symphony, as well as the theme music from the movie “Babe”! Saint-Saens knew what he wanted when he included the organ in his score, as did Philip Wilby when he skillfully adapted the Finale for brass band. Without the organ, the band arrangement was somewhat less then satisfying.
The first half ended with the Strauss “Radetsky” March , which like the earlier Berlioz march was well played, and an effective brass arrangement.
The second half opened with the Introduction to Act III of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. The next arrangement, “Pavane” , by French composer Gabriel Faure, skillfully arranged by G.Langford, worked well for brass band, and was very well played, with nicely shaped expression and dynamic contrasts, and exemplary work from principal cornet John Wise.
As an organist, I won’t say too much about the next item “Suite Gothique” originally written for organ by Leon Boellmann – I know it too well as an organ solo recital piece. In its Eric Ball arrangement for brass band, I know it has been around for a while, and become a sort of “brass band classic” but I feel the time has come for it to be gracefully retired.
“Panis Angelicus” by Cesar Franck – well-known as a vocal solo at weddings – was nicely played by principal trombonist Philip Spriggs – The band arrangement seemed rather heavy and overshadowed the soloist in places, but I guess I’m biased, and would have preferred to have accompanied Philip on organ!!
I must mention the penultimate item for a bit of light relief. “Elizabethan Serenade” a popular light orchestral piece by an English composer Ronald Binge. However, the item could have been renamed “Elephantine Serenade” – the arrangement by E.Siebert was altogether too “bass-heavy”.
The final item on the programme was one which I had waited all night to hear. The fine Gregson Variations on “Laudate Dominum” – at last, real music written for a modern brass band. This fine piece has been around for a few years, well known as a Contest piece, but just as effective as a stand-alone concert item. I take my hat off to the Band for playing this so well, at the end of what can only be described as a “full-on blow” programme. It was rhythmically cohesive, technically secure, the modern close-harmony sectional work was accurately and nicely blended. The beauty of this type of purpose-specific writing is that every section of the band has a chance to shine at what it does best – be it sectional ensemble, or contribute to a full band balance. “Laudate Dominum” (translated “O Praise Ye the Lord) was indeed an appropriate way to end this Cathedral Brass concert.
(O yeah – there was a snappy encore, from “Carmen” – I don’t know how you had the wind left over for it, guys!!)