The Crystal Palace Brett Baker (Trombone) with John Wilson (pianoforte) reviewed by Paul Hindmarsh for Bandsman July 2015

For the latest of his tireless explorations the trombone repertoire, Brett Baker has journeyed back a century and more to the hey-day of the virtuoso polka and caprice solos. Over his substantial career, Brett has continued to share his passion for his instrument and its repertoire through recordings, usually two a year, sometimes more.

Brett would be the first to say that not every one of the 100 new pieces he has commissioned will become a repertoire standard, but his recordings give these new inspirations every chance. This project formed part of his DMA performance based research at the University of Salford, where he now serves as programme leader for BA Music, and is the outcome of extensive research in publisher catalogues and archives plus some serendipity along the way. Brett came across a few of the items quite by chance, like the opening track, variations on a theme from Bellini’s 1826 opera Il Parata (The Pirate) written in 1882 by Frederich Berr. He found the sheet music in a Wellington (New Zealand) music shop five years ago while on one of his many tours. Brett has put it to great use here, performing with appropriate elegance and his trademark light, vibrant tone.

This is the earliest item of the 12 he has recorded and sets the context for the remaining works. The decorative Italian bel canto idiom and the air varie solos from the earlier decades of the 19th century set a template for the virtuoso ‘Arban’ style that became so popular in the 20th century. Of the 12 tracks recorded here, only Herbert Clarke’s From the Shores of the Mighty Pacific from 1912 is at all well known. Clarke was the great American cornettist-composer of his time, renowned for his lyrical attributes as well as his showmanship. This is a prime example and it’s become a classic of the cornet repertoire, which is perhaps where it should remain. On the other band Louis Boor’s The Charmer, although published for cornet, was composed for a very special trombonist, Arthur Bauer.

In his extensive and detailed booklet notes, Brett informs us that Bauer gave the first outing of the piece on 4 June 1902. It was his first appearance with Sousa’s Band, where he was Arthur Pryor’s understudy. Sadly, just three months later young Bauer died from typhoid fever, but this fine solo survives and it certainly lives up to its title. By comparison, William Rimmer’s St. Crispin, which Brett discovered in New Plymouth (NZ) along with the album title track, sounds more technical than musical – like a page from a study book in places. It was the first trombone variation solo to include a triple tonguing variation. The theme of Rimmer’s Amabel (1905) is more appealing and the caprice that follows less predictable. However, Rimmer’s finest achievements as a composer remain his 200 or so marches. There was more range and versatility in the work of Edinburgh born cornettist, composer and military band conductor James Ord Hume, whose through-composed caprice solo The Crystal Palace – after the celebrated location where he adjudicated at the National Brass Band Championships for many years – more ambitious in scale and resourceful in its contrasts of virtuoso passage work and dramatic rhetoric than the Rimmer examples. The central section creates a moment of lyrical contrast. Could the exemplary advocacy of Brett Baker and the excellent John Wilson restore Ord Hume’s solo to the repertory? I hope so.

In the second third of the album, Brett takes on an American rather than a predominantly European ‘treasure hunt’, so to speak. At Dawning is a short, popular song from 1906, which another Sousa trombonist Charles Guisikoff used to play. It’s lovely. The name of Goldman is still current in the American band scene. He was the house arranger for the music publisher Carl Fischer, as well as a trumpeter at the New York Metropolitan Opera, celebrated concert bandleader and composer. His Arthur Pryor-style solo American Caprice bears all the hallmarks of a competition piece in the techniques he shoehorns into just four minutes. I prefer the broader canvas and extended register of Leo Zimmerman’s Autumn Dreams.

Brett tells us that his famous predecessor in Sousa’s band, Arthur Pryor, Zimmerman played without vibrato. Brett captures the light, pure sound and ‘easy’ waltz lilt and spirit brilliantly. I hope he manages to unearth a few more of Zimmerman’s neglected solos, many of which we read remain unpublished.  The opening of Nirvana is strongly reminiscent of its composer’s most famous ballad, The Holy City. Stephen Adams was the pseudonym of Liverpool born baritone singer of light opera and ballads Michael Maybrick (1841-1913). The caprice Golden Sunrise is the work of another Sousa trombonist, Frank Burnell, whose harmonic palette and textural invention, plus his sense of humour, adds a flavour, almost, of Frances Poulenc to the disc. Frenchman Poulenc loved to satirise the popular musical styles of his time.

Although the final track aptly named ‘triple tonguing twister’, The Whirlwind, is listed as being written in 1941, its composer Jules Levy died in 1903 aged 65. Born in London, Levy became one of the most celebrated cornettists of the age. Performances of this polka between theatre scenes at Covent Garden and elsewhere made his name. In his 20s he moved to the USA, where Herbert Clarke among others came under his spell and played many of his solos. Of all Brett’s appropriations from the cornet solo ‘archive’, this one works best and provides a bright, energetic finale to this most welcome of releases.

 Paul Hindmarsh British Bandsman

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