FORMIDABLE FODEN'S - Full coverage from the 2021 National Brass Band Championships

Issue 6112

HOW TO IMPRESS - Amos Miller on flourishing in a conservatoire audition

COMPOSER CAST - Liz Lane on her fascinating early musical life

DEPARTURE - Cornet star Kirsty Abbotts leaves Carlton Main

Review: Bram Gregson and Friends

Thursday 7 October, 2021

Bram Gregson and Friends | London Citadel Band, Intrada Brass, Brassroots | Conductor: Bram Gregson | Doyen

 

As a conductor, Bram Gregson made an enormous contribution to the world of brass band music, especially in Canada, where he and his family were to set up home after he fell in love with the country during previous tours with the Coldstream Guards and the Tottenham SA Band. Though illness and his untimely passing meant his contribution was brought to a halt too soon, Bram’s considerable recording legacy lives on in a new double album, Bram Gregson and Friends, a musical snapshot of the many recordings he conducted and oversaw.

Featured are the three ensembles with which Bram enjoyed decades of musical fulfilment: the London Citadel Band, Intrada Brass (his own creation) and ten-piece, Brassroots. This is an album of personal connections; the repertoire comes from composers with whom Bram often enjoyed personal ties; the soloists were friends too, and usually lived with Bram and his family during their trips to work with his ensembles.

The LCB demonstrates a quite remarkable standard, testament to Bram’s skills as a band trainer. Heaton’s Toccata is dramatic but there’s a lightness of touch to the direction which ensures it continues to flow. It’s a common thread; these interpretations are rarely overwrought or bogged down in sentimentality. Likewise in Eric Ball’s tone poem The Kingdom Triumphant, as elegant as it is magisterial. Intrada Brass was a Toronto-based brass band of Bram’s making and its virtuosic capabilities are on full display in James Curnow’s Trittico, a performance inducing an impressive variety of tonal colour. Pavilions of Praise, including the likes of St Denio, Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven and Father Hear the Prayer We Offer showcases the masterful handiwork of Ray Steadman-Allen and his ability to mesh diverse musical styles, bringing cohesion where it simply shouldn’t exist.

The solo playing on the album is of the highest calibre. From the richness and precision of Nicholas Childs in Symphonic Rhapsody, composed by Bram’s brother Edward, to the Childs brothers in Bearcroft’s Timepiece, and a magnificent, inherently lyrical contribution from Russell Gray in Ray Steadman-Allen’s Rhapsody on Negro Spirituals. The cornet playing of Tommy Wilson in Leidzén’s The Old Rugged Cross is immaculate in its delivery, a sensitivity and tenderness not always prevalent today.

Another of Bram’s insatiable musical passions was the world of big band jazz and swing and this is reflected in much of the output from Intrada Brass and Brassroots. The latter is initially featured in music of a more regal nature, John Iveson’s arrangement of Susato’s La Mourisque, a pleasing uniformity of approach and sense of organisation around the stand. Tuxedo Junction finds a neat groove while Point Pelee (Cable arr Snyder) is more wistful in outlook, featuring the gallant sound of Tony Snyder on French horn. Brassroots’ trumpet player Paul Stevenson channels his inner Maynard Ferguson, rising into the stratosphere in Gonna Fly Now, before the final few tracks of the album see Intrada Brass pick up the baton once more, opening with a sparkling rendition of Goff Richards’ arrangement of Strike Up the Band. Twelfth Street Rag enjoys a suitably relaxed feel, given time to breathe, which isn’t always the case in this ragtime style, and trumpet player Robert Venables is deliciously melancholic in Howard Snell’s arrangement of George Gershwin’s Summertime.

Bram Gregson was a conductor with broad musical horizons, a skilled communicator who knew how to get the best out of those around him. The 30-odd albums recorded under his direction were bold in their vision and elegant in their execution; the fact they were recorded on ‘private’ labels meant too few would have reached a wider audience.

Bram Gregson and Friends is a musical distillation of a life joyously lived, showcasing a voracious passion for bringing composers’ intentions to life with care and authenticity. Credit is due to all those responsible for bringing it to fruition, including World of Brass and Bram Gregson’s brother, Edward, whose unrelenting desire to give Bram’s recordings the light of day they deserve has been entirely justified. At the centre of the project is a man who knew of its conception and, one would hope, would have been delighted by its result.

Mark Good

Programme: 4

Performance: 5

Overall Presentation: 5

Recording Quality: 4