Partnership festivals bringing together bands from the Salvation Army and their secular counterparts have become more frequent in recent years, with the relaxation of rules regarding music for bands giving official sanction for joint items to be performed.
Several of these have been recorded, including the one presented here, with both Boscombe and Foden's playing under the baton of Howard Evans. Brett Baker appears as guest soloist, and there are premieres of two works by Ray Steadman-Allen: “Starmaker”, and the first complete performance of his “Variants on The Triumph of Peace”.
The single-sheet insert is attractive but rather basic, including photographs of the bands and soloist in action, a programme listing, and a brief note concerning the two premieres. Ray explains that “Starmaker” had rather a long gestation, the current version being the third, and that the prospect of its performance by Foden's gave him the impetus he needed to press on.
It is not intended to propound any particular creationist theories, but it is a paean of praise to a supremely creative God. Although not intended as a test piece, the composer admits that he feared he “may have initially overdone its technical demands”. The music is quite restless at first, before allusions are made to the tune “St Denio” (“Immortal, invisible”), the melody then becoming stronger and more dominant. Later, there is a treatment of “Eudoxia” which draws some beautiful sonorities from the band, and the piece ends on a positive note.
The concept of “Variants on The Triumph of Peace” sprang from a car journey with Bram Gay and David Read, and discussions concerning a possible tribute to Eric Ball, based around on of his themes. A shortened version, consisting of variants 1, 2, 4 and the finale, was performed at the concert following the 1996 Open at Bridgewater Hall, played by the massed bands of Black Dyke and the Egon Virtuosi Brass, although Ray points out that the omission of some movements affected the overall impact of the piece.
The full version includes seven variants in all, and lasts half as long again as the previous recording. Whilst it is good to have the full work at last, the performance seems to lack a little of the excitement of the Bridgewater Hall rendition, and one feels there is more to be revealed in this fine contribution to Ray's oeuvre.
Of Brett Baker's two solos, “Sarah” was written especially for him by William Broughton for a visit to Australia, and is named after his wife. It exploits particularly the upper register of the instrument, the composer himself being a noted exponent of high, lyrical playing, and Brett shows he is more than equal to the challenge.
“Oration” was written by Howard Snell as a memorial to two friends, and was the title track of a recording by euphonium virtuoso Steven Mead, but the transition to the trombone is quite successful. The composer describes it as being in the spirit of an ancient funeral speech, the soloist declaiming his theme over a largely chordal backing. And at the conclusion of the piece there is a suitable delay before any applause is heard.
The other soloist represented is Glyn Williams with another multi-instrument piece following in the footsteps of his “Courtois Showcase”. Also by Alan Fernie, “The New Grandfather's Clock” – presumably to replace the one that “stopped, dead, never to go again”! – sees him take up several instruments, with references to a variety of melodies, ending with a final note on the kitchen sink for good measure! The recording conveys the sense of fun quite well, despite the listener being deprived of the visual aspects that clearly amuse the audience at times.
The other fun item on the programme comes from the pen of Peter Graham, who has taken the Graham Kendrick song “Jesus put this Song into our Hearts”, with its origins in Jewish music, and turned it into an exhilarating romp for band in the style of a Hungarian dance.
Two marches are included, both linked to the Salvation Army music camp at Star Lake. Eric Ball's march of that name was written for the very first gathering, and was apparently written in a very short space of time, parts being written out and handed round almost while the ink was still wet.
Either way, it has stood the test of time and receives a slick performance here. Stephen Bulla, no doubt with a bit more time available, wrote “Star Lake 70” to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the camp, including a couple of references to the earlier opus, but with a few transatlantic twists. The hymn tune “Ascalon” appears, and there is a brief quote from Dvorak's “New World Symphony” towards the end.
“Song of Courage” contains some of Eric Ball's most vivid writing, and it takes a good band to bring it off successfully, as with Chalk Farm Band's live recording from the 1990 Congress. The song at the heart of the work, “A Prayer for Courage“, was written in 1939, inspired by a preacher Eric Ball heard over the radio.
Whilst similar in some ways to his earlier “Triumph of Peace”, the later work, written some twenty years after the original song, is altogether darker, exploring the impending menace of evil. Foden's reading is full of passion and drama, with excellent contributions from euphonium and soprano as well as from the trombones, both as a section, particularly at the entry of the melody “Stand like the Brave”, and also in the high-lying solo towards the end.
A congregational song is included, Eric Ball's setting of John Oxenham's “Peace in our Time” that is central to “A Triumph of Peace”, and the recording concludes with a transcription of John Rutter's benediction “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”.
It draws to an end a recording that captures well the spirit of the occasion, with some fine playing from both bands, with Boscombe clearly continuing to progress under Howard Evan's direction and Foden's maintaining the high standards one has come to expect.