Light Fantastic CD Review 4barsrest

Brett Baker
Flowers Band 
Conductor: Paul Holland
Doyen Recordings: DOY CD429

If this is to be Brett Baker’s last large scale recording project then he takes his leave of the spotlight with a substantive bow.  

In the words of 17th century polemicist John Milton, he has certainly left an indelible  mark in ‘tripping the light fantastic’ as a global ambassador for his instrument.

It’s appropriate then that the title track is written by a composer whose own theological inspirations, much like Milton, are based on conviction as well as allegorical questioning; although in Philip Wilby’s case, occasionally accompanied by a mischievous sense of dry wit.

Warmth of character

‘Light Fantastic’  is a musical portrait of Canon Dr Colin Harrison. It reveals a man of deep belief, blessed with indefatigable energy and insight, as well as a lovely hint of self-deprecation in admiration of his own dancing skills.  

Brett Baker captures his warmth of character (aided by a Flowers Band playing throughout the release with finely attuned consideration) – affectionately defined in its contrasting elements of faith, service and shoe-lace tied twinkle-toed missteps.

The Welsh tune ‘Calon Lan’  has liturgical roots of a different kind – a ‘pure heart’ of non-conformist methodist certainty that composer Tom Davoren inventively diverts from the usual variant norms. 

It’s also played with a tasteful balance of warmth and virtuosity, eagerly driven without losing its lyrical essence. 

Statesmanlike authority

Service and faith also underpinned the life and work of Dag Hammarskjold, the UN Secretary General whose untimely death in 1961 robbed the world of leadership of enlightened diplomatic morality.   

Dorothy Gates’ ‘Servant of Peace’  concerto has a certainty that reflects the Swede’s personal outlook. Inspired by piece of his own poetry the decisive first movement is followed by a contemplative central section and a uplifting finale of 1960’s resolve and optimism, each element delivered with statesmanlike authority.  

It is poised between a brace of latinesque detours that offer plenty of swagger fun.

‘La Chica Sin Nombre’  captures the free spirit of the ‘girl with no name’ dancers that adorn Rio Carnival floats – all hip-sashaying exotica, peacock feathers and G-string bikinis, whilst ‘Fiesta!’  has slightly more glossiness – more stage show than street party. Each though is played with a neatly observed, louche easiness. 

Acidic lunacy

The release closes with a return to musical roots for the Bourgeois ‘Trombone Concerto’  – the composer at some time having lived just a few miles from the soloist (and as with Wilby, also taught by local Lydney lad, Herbert Howells).

It is familiar Bourgeois – although at times, more tempered and reserved in its fiendishness; the opening strict and imposing, the central ‘Adagio’  darkly romantic. The ‘Presto’  finale though has the trademark nods of waspish acidic lunacy – played with feverish brilliance.  

It is an apt a way to make your curtain call as you could imagine – the accompanying applause richly deserved. 

Iwan Fox 

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