BATTLE OF THE TITANS - Bands gear up for a titanic battle at the Royal Albert Hall

Issue 6016

COMPOSERS' CORNER - Dr Liz Lane looks at the subject of  networking 

HERE IS THE NEWS - Looking back at the Daily Herald's Nationals sponsorship

Review: The Symphonic Brass of London - Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks

Tuesday 17 March, 2020

The Symphonic Brass of London - Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks. Conductor: Eric Crees.

As someone who has spent the vast bulk of his professional career steeped in London’s professional music scene, Eric Crees has a contacts book that is second to none. It comes in very useful indeed for the celebrated trombone player, director and arranger when he calls upon The Symphonic Brass of London, an ensemble comprising leading orchestral brass and percussion players including names familiar to brass band audiences such as James Fountain, who shares piccolo trumpet duties, and trombonist Chris Houlding.

In its latest release, the star-studded group turns to arrangements made especially for the world-premiere recording, by Eric, of music by Scott Joplin and his apparent influence on the likes of Debussy, Eric Satie and members of Les Six in France. Eric Crees has gone to painstaking lengths to retain a degree of authenticity in his music, paying close attention to tempi and harmonies found in the original arrangements. Swipesy, by Joplin and his pupil Arthur Marshall, sets the tone for this engaging release, encapsulating the cheeky charm and humour associated with ragtime. As one might expect, the playing is of a terrific calibre throughout, the ensemble finding a wonderful homogeneity and blend, no doubt underpinned by the quality and consistency of personnel, which endures across its appearances and recording work.

Joplin’s The Strenuous Life, Searchlight Rag and Weeping Willow are treated with a remarkable sense of poise, no doubt alluding to comments from the composer, highlighted by Crees in the sleeve notes, warning: “never play ragtime fast at any time”. It elicits a gentle swagger which often goes untapped in this genre.

La Puerta del Vino provides a refreshing change of pace, taking the listener into an altogether more violent sound world – not least thanks to the bass trombone interjections of Christian Jones. There’s a luxurious warmth, meanwhile, to Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin. Percussion is used sensibly, adding a variety of colour without becoming overbearing. Works by ragtime ‘guru’ Joplin permeate the release and his apparent influence never seems far away, even during the music of composers like Debussy, Milhaud and Satie; Debussy’s Minstrels and Le Piccadilly, by Satie, for example, feel at home.

In an album of this type, there’s a danger the repertoire could become one-dimensional and samey. The harmonic languages of the French composers bring the necessary variety.

The recording, which was made in London’s Henry Wood Hall, authentically captures the individual and collective sounds produced by these eminent musicians. Accompanied by detailed, informative sleeve notes, it makes for an engaging chamber brass recording which would be a worthy addition to any listener’s library, arranged and performed by musicians of the highest calibre. 

Mark Good