Patrons Choice X

Posted by Mark Wilkinson on 16 February 2017

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This, the 10th recording in Foden's Band's highly successful Patrons' Choice series is dedicated to all the companies and individuals who assisted the band following the tragic fire that destroyed the Foden's bandroom, music library and equipment on 17th April 2016.

As with the previous recordings in the series, the programme contains items carefully selected from the band’s current and recent concert repertoire. Often these kind of albums end up consisting of numerous tried and tested lighter pieces, that hang loosely  together and offer relative little interest to those listeners searching for something new. However, one look at the track list for Patrons’ Choice X reveals a selection of relatively new compositions and arrangements, some being recorded for the very first time.

The album opens with the appropriately titled ‘Grand Fanfare’ by Venezuelan composer, conductor and trumpet player Giancarlo Castro D’Addona. The work, which this reviewer first heard performed by the Simon Bolivar Brass Ensemble during their amazing performance at the 2011 RNCM Festival of Brass, transfers well for full band in this arrangement by the composer.

Mark Wilkinson recently celebrated 25 years as Foden’s Principal Cornet An outstanding achievement by anyone’s standard. You can clearly hear that he remains at the top of his game as he is featured in ‘Aria Con Variazioni’. This is a reworking by Bernard  Fitzgerald of a famous melody (‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’) by Handel. The brilliantly colourful arrangement arranged especially for Mark by Matthew Eden is a great vehicle for his extremely classy, suave tone and technique.

‘Dunlap’s Creek is based on an old hymn tune of the same name, but is not a typical traditional arrangement. Rarely heard these days, ‘Dunlap’s Creek’ is given a welcome and sonorous revival by Foden’s. Sarah Lenton is one of the most outstanding baritone players around today and in ‘When Sparks Fly’ by Tom Davoren she demonstrates just how high the bar has been raised in terms of what the modern baritone virtuoso is capable of. This is a wonderfully gutsy performance, sonorous and technically athletic.

No fan of brass music can be unaware of the phenomenon that is Mnozil Brass. Principal Trumpet Thomas Gansch composed the gospel style ‘Blue’ for the group, and this has been transcribed faithfully for band by John Doyle and the soprano cornet soloist on this recording, Richard Poole. It is a brilliant showcase for Poole’s stunningly commanding sound, range and style.

‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Dutch composer and conductor Harrie Jansen is another new work for this listener and a very engaging one it is too. Leigh Baker’s great arrangement of the Lionel Richie classic ‘All Night Long’ actually feels like a bit of an ‘old timer’ in  amongst some of the other repertoire on this recording. This stylish performance shows why Baker’s imaginative reworking has remained so popular.

‘Someone Like You’ by Frank Wildhorn is arguably the standout song from the musical ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Foden’s principal trombone of over 20 years, John Barber, shows  himself (once again) to be a master of the ballad in his own very tasteful, yet faithful, arrangement of this bittersweet and hopeful number.

The music of the English rock group ‘Muse’ might seem an unusual source for a band transcription, but the epic almost symphonic scale and dramatic nature of many of their songs actually lend themselves very nicely for performance on brass. ‘Gypsy Earrings’ by Iranian composer Ardeshir Farah started life as a showcase for Guitar duet in Latin style. The work has been skilfully transcribed for duetting or is it duelling (?!) euphoniums with rhythm section. The well-matched virtuosic soloists are  David Thornton and Mark Bousie.

In complete contrast to the previous piece, Eric Whitacre’s ‘The Seal Lullaby’ provides a beautiful four minutes or so of tranquillity and repose by Flugel soloist Mel Whyle

The expertly colourful arrangement by the band’s former musical director, Howard Snell’ of Albert Ketelby’s ‘The Clock with the Dresden Figures’ was a piece beloved of entertainment contest  programmes of the eighties and early nineties. The band’s current percussion section give a polished performance that the very best of Swiss clock makers would be proud of.

Foden’s and Howard Snell had a close association with Wilfred Heaton during the early nineties and were a major factor in the music of this highly individual composer being brought to the banding public’s attention. The reflective meditation ‘Just As I Am’ is one of Heaton’s best known shorter pieces, but it is testament to the composer that this work continues to reveal more of its melancholic beauty on repeated listening, especially  when it’s given such a sympathetic reading as it is here by Foden’s current Musical Director Michael Fowles.

Much of the music of the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian seems perfectly suited to a brass band setting and this hugely enjoyable and varied recording is brought to a powerfully thrilling close with ‘The Triumphal Entry of Spartacus’ (from the ballet ‘Spartacus’) in another masterful arrangement by Howard Snell.

Mark Baines

For any conductor and every audience, Foden’s Band is a musical Magic Carpet. It continually takes the listener to places that few other ensembles rarely even approach Howard Snell