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Vaughan Williams on Brass

Ross Knight (tuba); The Tredegar Town Band/Ian Porthouse, Martyn Brabbins (Albion)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Vaughan Williams
English Folk Songs Suite*; Sea Songs*; Henry the Fifth; Prelude on Rhosymedre†; The 49th Parallel Suite*†; Tuba Concerto*^; Variations for Brass Band** etc. (*arr. P Littlemore; †arr. P Hindmarsh)
^Ross Knight (tuba); The Tredegar Town Band/Ian Porthouse, **Martyn Brabbins
Albion ALBCD052    79:30 mins

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The biggest test for the Tredegar Town Band on this Vaughan Williams recital is the Variations for Brass Band, a technically demanding piece written for the National Brass Band Championships in 1957. Under the taut direction of guest conductor Martyn Brabbins, the players respond vividly to both the extroverted and more subdued variations, managing the multiple shifts of tone and instrumentation with impressive assurance.

If anything the performance of Henry the Fifth is even punchier, the opening fanfares combatively projected, with a sweetly phrased interlude before the battle section. The Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn Tunes is another piece VW wrote specifically for brass band, and Tredegar’s regular conductor Ian Porthouse ties its various threads coherently together, ensuring a gleaming climax on ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’.

The rest of the programme consists of arrangements of one kind or another. The most substantial is that of VW’s Tuba Concerto, where the loss of timbral variety from the original orchestral score – strings in particular – is offset by soloist Ross Knight’s mellow-toned, extremely agile playing. The suite from Vaughan Williams’s music for the war film The 49th Parallel (1941) slips more naturally into brass band format, in Paul Hindmarsh’s and Phillip Littlemore’s stirring arrangement. Lower brass, xylophone and percussion play a key role in juicing up the martial moments, and Ian Porthouse’s direction is incisive and dramatic. Among the shorter pieces, try the perky Sea Songs for a glimpse of the Tredegar players at their strutting finest.

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Terry Blain