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Review: Grimethorpe Colliery Band - Mysteries of the Horizon

Tuesday 21 July, 2020

Review: Grimethorpe Colliery Band - Mysteries of the Horizon. Conductors: Nigel Clarke, David Thornton, Sandy Smith. Naxos.

This disc provides a superb showcase for attractive brass band compositions by Nigel Clarke (b 1960) as well as a delightful vehicle for enjoying Grimethorpe Colliery Band in peak form. Four significant, varied works receive excellent performances; the recording quality is top drawer, and the overall production and presentation very fine.

Released on the international Naxos label, it should draw widespread, keen attention to both composer and band. Clarke’s style, intense and at times bitingly aggressive, suits Grimethorpe well. He scores effectively for brass band, with a particularly fine use of percussion, expanding his colour palette in compelling manner.

The four works are different enough to keep the attentive listener engaged, while allowing one to admire Clarke’s subtle reliance on motivic unity that keeps his eclectic pieces tightly wrought. The centerpiece, Mysteries of the Horizon: Concerto in Four Movements for Cornet and Brass Band, was written for the featured cornet soloist from Belgium, Harmen Vanhoorne. He is outstanding throughout the major work, providing bravura technique, warm, lyrical tone, and, above all, high energy that drives forward the solo—tutti dialogue throughout all four movements.

The composer bases his concerto on four paintings by the Belgian Surrealist painter, Rene Magritte (1898-1967). The movements are: 1) The Menaced Assassin; 2) The Dominion of Light; 3) The Flavour of Tears; 4) The Discovery of Fire. One does not need to know these paintings (though easily accessed online) to be drawn into the intense musical dramas Clarke unfolds, frequently via intense, aggressive dissonance, particularly in movements one, two and four. Flavour, mostly in minor mode and more consonant, contrasts well with the others. This work is as much a ‘symphony’ as a concerto. Movement two is a tight, short scherzo and in the finale, Discovery, Clarke brings back his motivic style with cyclic reference to the opening movement for a satisfying conclusion topped off by a riveting cadenza from the excellent soloist.

The disc opens with Dial ‘H’ for Hitchcock: A Psychological Thriller for Brass Band. It is a thriller for the listener as well, the band playing so well. Clarke’s title is a play on the film Dial ‘M’ for Murder, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 crime thriller. The inclusion of a sudden female scream, gun sounds, and police car sirens seems appropriate.

We can read in the informative CD booklet notes by Sheila Wilson that Clarke has had good experience as a film composer, standing him in good stead here, right from the aggressive opening double-tongued figurations, a descending series of chord clusters, and the highly contrasting, lyrical middle ‘love song.’ Bracing stuff - fans of ‘noir’ atmosphere will be delighted.

The remaining two works can be labelled more traditional in sound, if no less interesting. Swift Severn Flood: A Shakespeare Drama for Brass Band takes us back to the era of Henry IV where militaristic march music, again brash and aggressive, contrasts with more wistful, quieter impressionistic devices, including brass players evoking wind sounds without pitch. At nearly 15 minutes it should prove a highly engaging, yet accessible concert work.

Perhaps even more accessible is the disc closer, again a major work of 18 minutes: Earthrise, after a photo taken from Apollo 8 in 1968. The evocative tone picture in some ways encapsulates all the attractive aspects of Clarke’s style and the band is as expected in top form. A brash sound dominates but the middle portion, beautifully static and consonant, is most poignant. One accepts gladly the triumphant ending that follows – even a big tune.

This is a wonderful disc; I highly recommend.

Ronald W Holz


Programme: *****

Performance: *****

Overall Presentation: *****

Recording Quality: *****


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