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Royal Air Force - 100th Anniversary
Central Band of the Royal Air Force Band of the Royal Air Force College
Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment Royal Air Force Squadronaires Royal
Air Force Swing Wing
rec. 2005-2017, The Church of St Michael and All Angels, RAF College, Cranwell; RAF Uxbridge, London; RAF Music Studios, Northolt, London CHANDOS CHAN10973(2) [56:16 + 64:50]
The RAF celebrates its centenary in 2018 and this twofer honours the service with tracks dating back to 2005 and as far forward as January 2017. Three bands are involved and they receive historical profiles in the booklet which also presents evocative photographs and track listings but which is otherwise wholly silent about the music. It is, to borrow the slang, Compilation Charlie time. That being said, these things are at the mercy of the programming and fortunately this one is pretty good with performances to match.
Quite rightly things get underway with the Walford Davies-George Dyson Royal Air Force March Past whilst Walton’s Spitfire Prelude, ever stirring, receives an athletic reading from the Central Band of the RAF under Sqn Leader Richard Murray. The Royal Air Force Squadronaires revive the glorious days of their wartime confrères in several performances. It’s good to see the South Rampart Street still in the band book and that Come Fly with Me has been co-opted, in the Sinatra-Basie version. Still, I’m sure aficionados will recall the pleasures of glittering names such as Tommy McQuater, George Chisholm, Eric Breeze, Archie Craig, Andy McDevitt, Ronnie Aldrich et al and will be glad to know their legacy continues in the modern band.
As one of Ron Goodwin’s most omnivorous admirers I’m glad to see him represented – it could hardly be otherwise – by music for 633 Squadron, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and The Battle of Britain March. Songs of the Early Airmen, sprucely played by the Band of the RAF College is a pot-pourri of popular songs, stitched together à la nineteenth-century procedure. Compositionally things do rather move forward as the discs develop. There’s an especially nice 4-minute tone poem from Andrew Pearce called F35 Lightning II with a fine sense of irresistible elevation and quiet exhilaration. The late John Martindale’s salute to the leader of the pack, Don Lusher, offers plenty of warmth but one shouldn’t forget those March staples – things like Roy Davies’ solid Skywatch or the Alford-meets-Sousa Out of the Blue by that much admired composer Hubert Bath, or the quilt work of National Anthems and famous tunes that Kenneth Alwyn stitched in Fighter Command March. Philip Sparke’s The Way to Heaven is decidedly Goodwinesque and to end the first disc Barrie Hingley has arranged Walton’s Battle of Britain Suite with stirring results.
Opening the second disc Squadron Leader Christopher Weldon – good name for a conductor – directs a dynamic The Shining Sword by Robert Wiffin whilst a heavenly chorus keeps company with Stuart Stirling’s Global Co-operation. There’s a real speaker-shattering showpiece from Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs and the Band of the RAF College in the shape of their Queen Medley, arranged by Stuart Morley: it’s Freddie and his band that’s celebrated, by the way, not Her Majesty. Nigel Hess’ rather Puccinian Ladies in Lavender continues a sub-theme of filmic offerings. The Squads reappear in a recreation of Benny Goodman’s version of Jimmy Munday’s Sing, Sing, Sing – someone does a creditable Gene Krupa – before ushering in the March King himself in the shape of Kenneth Alford’s Holyrood March. His near-contemporary Albert Sims’ College March shows distinct Alfordesque elements. Songs that saw us through offers another pot-pourri, the subject of which is pretty self-evident, and there’s a noble, reflective Elegy on the Royal Air Force March Past (which is where things started) from the pen of Barrie Hingley.
It brings to an end a confident but also, at times, suitably sensitive salute to the service in courageous and highly accomplished performances.