RNCM Festival of Brass January 2020 with Black Dyke Band

Edward Gregson’s impending 75th birthday and the recent 70th of Philip Wilby formed the celebratory stage foundation stones on which this year’s festival was built. 

It was therefore appropriate that Black Dyke, who has been closely associated with both composers over the years, should perform a quartet of some of their most impressive works in a concert that was itself to become a construct of imposing theatrical excellence. 
They opened with a world premiere by Young Composer in Association, Andy Wareham; an inventive musical translation of ‘Deus ex Machina’ ('God in the Machine') – the stage theatre apparatus of ancient Greece used to resolve seemingly unsolvable problems. Wareham’s answers were clear, colourful and concise. 

Brett Baker’s bravura performance of Oliver Waespi’s ‘Scene Change’  concerto saw him delve deep into his locker of musical experience.  The narrative episodes derived from material from Brahms ‘Fourth Symphony’  made for absorbing listening, the suppleness of the writing tautly tethered between soloist and ensemble. 

Intent and scope:

Gregson’s ‘Symphony in two movements’  is a touchstone of musical craftsmanship and academic rigour; a concise sonata paired with an expansive theme and variations – the end result a work of rich maturity of thought and concentration.  Balanced in intent and scope by the MD, it developed into a majestic performance.    

Daniel Thomas was also on majestic form in two movements from Philip Wilby’s popular ‘Euphonium Concerto’; the beautiful tenderness of ‘Sarajevo Song’  followed by the frantic celebratory fun of the ‘Zeibekikos’  dance. It was worthy of a full wedding set of smashed crockery let alone a single health & safety conscious dinner plate.

Devilish temptations:

It was preceeded by Wilby’s interpretation of John Bunyon’s allegorical tale of a ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’  to Christian salvation – one which expertly mixed puritan seriousness with its devilish temptations.  And whilst the narration did make it sound as if it was a very Yorkshire road trip, it ended in an everyman’s glory in excelsis.

Shakespearean drama filled the hall to close, with Gregson’s magnificent ‘An Age of Kings’ – all Plantagenet gore and gusto, Anglo-French conflict and Welsh lyricism. 

Fortified by an increase in musical arms, Prof Childs directed an immensely powerful, all embracing account – both savage and sensitive in turn as the engrossing conflict ebbed and flowed before reaching its triumphant conclusion. 

Iwan Fox

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