De Waldsang is a band with a reputation that speaks for itself. One of the most consistent and successful of bands on the European platform with eight top five placings in the European Championships this disc clearly finds them in fine fettle, as is guest soloist Brett Baker whose four contributions are uniformly first class.
So often when a programme is chosen with a strong commercial angle in mind it can have an all too negative impact from the point of view of listener satisfaction. Here though we get a finely balanced and thoughtfully chosen combination of music that achieves a successful mix of originals and arrangements.
Marco Middelburg's Red and Black is a cracking up tempo march that would sit up there with the best on the contest platform at the Whit Friday's and we reckon De Waldsang's lively airing will win it more than a few fans. Richard Grantham provides two originals in Star of the East and Tallis' Lamentation. The Thomas Tallis theme will need no introduction but don't let the deceiving label of “lamentation” prove off putting. This is a cracking five minute number that Grantham imbues with echoes of the Agincourt Song as used by William Walton in his film score for Henry V. It produces some great sounds from the band and gives the percussion section a work out that they clearly relish.
Rieks van der Velde is the latest of many to jump onto the seemingly never ending Celtic music band wagon and his Celtic Moods is a series of contrasting episodes that whilst attractive enough melodically leaves the nagging impression that you have heard all of the tunes before. Of much greater interest is Crusade, which according to the Lake Music web site was written for the 2006 Gouden Spiker Festival. The music tells the heroic tale of a crusader and his journey to the eleventh century Holy Wars, a journey beset, as one might expect, by many an adventure along the way.
Thank goodness then that the English translation of the composer's programme note on Lake Music's website proudly asserts that “bravura and spunk prevail”! We're not sure about the latter but bravura there is in plenty, there also being plenty to challenge and entertain many a third section band in a score that is pretty well action packed from beginning to end.
De Waldsang's Musical Director also shows us his considerable talents as an arranger in material ranging from the familiar strains of How D'ya Like Your Eggs in the Morning to the block busting scores for Band of Brothers and The Last Samurai by Michael Kamen and Hans Zimmer respectively. All would go down well in concert programmes although God and God Alone and De Zee (Amsterdam Arena Hymn) are possibly a little less inspiring in this respect.
And so onto Black Dyke's Brett Baker whose virtuosity and versatility on the trombone are displayed to admirable effect. Versatility is perhaps more the key word here than virtuosity on the basis that few are likely to argue Baker's abundantly obvious talent. The four chosen solos however all reflect very different facets of both the instrument and the player. Richard Grantham's Star of the East is a new addition to the repertoire, a bright and melodically appealing if slightly stayed concert piece modelled around the hymn tune heard at its heart. Robin Dewhurst's Homelands is less traditional in its upbeat, jazzy idiom.
There is just a hint of the band being too string for the soloist at times although Brett Baker dispatches the solo part with easy aplomb. Back to the days of Sousa for Keith Wilkinson's arrangement of Gardell Simons' The Volunteer and in complete contrast Robin Dewhurst's arrangement of Jimmy van Heusen's Polka Dots and Moonbeams. The silky ease of Baker's style in Polka Dots is unalloyed pleasure to behold and not to be missed.
At nearly eighty minutes of music there is no argument in terms of quantity here but quality is abundant in equal measure too. A well judged programme backed up by an impressively engineered recording, a star soloist at the top of his game and a band that remain one of Holland's finest all contribute to a highly entertaining disc. What a shame about those sleeve notes.