TAKING ON THE TUBA - BB meets rising star, Sarah Billard

Issue 6066

CULTURE RECOVERY - Black Dyke receives £76,000 funding boost

DEAFENING SILENCE - Liv Appleton imagines a life without the arts

Review: Anthems, Hymns & Gloria for Brass Band | Black Dyke Band and Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus

Sunday 18 October, 2020

Review: Anthems, Hymns & Gloria for Brass Band | Black Dyke Band and Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus

Conductors: Nicholas Childs and Darius Battiwalla

Naxos

 

The name John Rutter is synonymous with the choral sphere; a composer whose output forms part of the very fabric of the genre’s repertoire, particularly around the festive season.

Singing in public may be off the cards at present but with sleighbells and Santa just around the corner, Black Dyke brings this release of Rutter’s music, arranged by Luc Vertommen, to the market at just the right time.

The opening pair of hymn settings – Now Thank We All Our God and All Creatures of Our God and King – are uplifting from the outset, courtesy of majestic introductions which are crisp and clear in their delivery. The latter sees Luc Vertommen cultivate an impressive variety of colour from the band’s tonal palette, notably bringing to the fore the lyricism of the middle sounds.

Nicholas Childs ensures a gentle flow in A Clare Benediction. Named after Rutter’s alma mater (Clare College, Cambridge), the music conveys an innocence that doesn’t require it to be overwrought; a blanket of luscious musical warmth is sufficient – and that’s exactly what is offered in this endearing new release. Likewise with What Sweeter Music, the music given time to breathe, turning the corners gently but effectively. Subtle tuned percussion, meanwhile, is a welcome addition.

Rutter’s The Requiem was composed in memory of his father, with the Pie Jesu usually featuring a soprano voice. Described as a “personal prayer to Christ”, it is the sacred sound of principal cornetist, Richard Marshall, which rises to the fore in a performance of nuanced expression, so much communicated from a subtle shift in the colour of vibrato from this soloist of world renown.

An intrinsic feature of Rutter’s music is his innate ability to craft a melody, exemplified by As the Bridegroom to his Chosen and Go Forth into the World in Peace. Nicholas Childs ensures shapely readings, the phrases gently ebbing and flowing in fleeting works which leave a lasting impression. Inspired by the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, Distant Land (A Prayer for Freedom) is infectious in its uplifting nature and offers momentary opportunities for Black Dyke to open into majestic splendour – but it’s never forced.

Of all Rutter’s enchanting melodies, The Lord Bless You and Keep You seems to resonate particularly well in what is a well-balanced recording, solo and tutti sounds realised with great authenticity by recording engineers, Philip Hardman and Stephen Scott.

There’s a dynamism to All Things Bright and Beautiful which is often lacking from the more conventional, four-square English melody. After letting the endearing harmonies do the talking in so much of the rest of the release, the use of drum kit in For the Beauty of the Earth seems to jar somewhat, even though it’s a feature in recordings by Rutter’s own choir, the Cambridge Singers; it just doesn’t feel necessary.

The album receives a royal stamp of approval in This is the Day, music written for the marriage of HRH Prince William and Catherine Middleton and first performed on the occasion of their wedding in Westminster Abbey.

The focal point of this considerable release, of more than an hour in duration, is Rutter’s Gloria, in which Black Dyke joins forces with the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus. The latter’s musical director, Darius Battiwalla, directs in a well-balanced recording which opens in exciting fashion, the Allegro vivace bursting into life. In stark contrast, the plaintive Andante is respectfully restrained in the early stages. Repeating, spiralling figures in brass are ultimately joined by the considerable choral forces, the two groups entwining perfectly during the well-measured rise to the climatic moments of Rutter’s score. The final movement, vivace e ritmico, features myriad competing textures. Only occasionally does it feel like the men’s voices are slightly muddied by the sounds of low brass. The closing moments, meanwhile, are unashamedly triumphant, bringing to an end an engaging musical offering.

There’s something about Rutter’s music that makes you want to look out the tree, don the matching family pyjamas and settle down to Macaulay Culkin tricking those calamitous burglars in Home Alone. Luc Vertommen’s arrangements retain the authenticity of the choral versions and the musicality of Black Dyke and traditional characteristics of the Queensbury band’s sound ensure it is an engaging listen.

Packaged and presented with informative sleeve notes, the end result is a product which holds appeal for those within and beyond the realm of the brass band world. If you’re looking for an early stocking filler, you can’t go wrong.

Mark Good

 

Programme: 4

Performance: 4

Overall Presentation: 5

Recording Quality: 5