On a glorious February afternoon, the London Military Band recreated memories of the past with their programme of Holst and Grainger, a march by Kenneth Alford, an overture from the golden days of London's musical theatre, a Beatles selection and two pieces by Eric Whitacre.
With a large number of Guards players supplemented by RCM students, the level of performance was remarkable and thoroughly professional; the opening march The Thin Red Line received a suitably stirring performance. Overture to the Arcadians, (surely by Lionel Monckton not Arthur Wood as stated in the programme) followed, and I was transported back seventy years to my Aunt Marjory's front room by the charming song Come follow) Aunt Marjory accompanied haltingly on piano by me. I loved it then and loved it now, and Alan Shellard and his band recaptured all the wit and zest of Monckton's score.
Holst's First Suite in Eb was the major work in the concert. This perhaps explained why the wind orchestra or military band is disregarded by most. The playing was superb, great tone, in tune, good ensemble, no technical problems, but that was that. I could not help thinking back to a brief clip of BASBWE's President Sir Simon Rattle on Saturday evening in Haydn's The Creation with the Orchestra of the Enlightenment, star players, playing magnificently, but constantly challenged by Simon in rehearsal over phrasing and dynamics and other niceties of interpretation. Some critics in the past week have been worried by Rattle's over-interpretation of Sibelius and Mahler, but he brings an imagination and intensity to music making which explores nuances and shades of colour which perhaps our wind repertoire needs in spades.
There are clearly some great players in the group, and the first flute David Venter is one of them, featured here in a scintillating performance of Briccialdi's Carnival of Venice. I thoroughly enjoyed two works by Percy Grainger, a suitably rumbustious Children's March albeit without the wordless chorus in the middle, and Colonial Song, beautifully controlled, but with a slight balance problem in that where I sat I could scarcely hear the very important piano part.
Whitacre's Lux Aurumque I find rather sentimental, but it received a suitably sentimental performance, and I am afraid that I did not stay for his Equus which I find noisy and repetitive but the band and audience obviously enjoyed it as they did Higgins. The Beatles Echoes of an Era, not my cup of tea either, though Rattle, proud Scouse that he is, would have enjoyed it.
Fifty Shades of Forte
Alan Shellard is a very cool, clear conductor, with a fine sense of pulse and ensemble, good connection with his orchestra. He has great players at his disposal; I would love to hear them challenged by demands of phrasing, dynamic range, balance, and for me, snob that I am, some more demanding repertoire, Hesketh rather than Higgins, Woolfenden rather than Whitacre. (Whitacre is more ambitious but I find Guy's music more fun in its variety of phrasing melodic invention and orchestration). It is relatively easy to make a very good band of wind and brass sound more than competent, but the hard thing is to take them to the next level of giving compulsive musical performances, exploring really quiet as well as really loud dynamics, with every shade in between. But this is a band of great potential with a conductor who has terrific ideas and great energy. I look forward very much to their next concert.