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Onyx Brass/John Wilson
rec. 2017, Church of St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London
Reviewed in CD stereo

This is a challenging CD to listen to, never mind write a review about. The reader would not thank me for a 5000-word-plus review discussing each fanfare in turn. It reminds me of the old joke about the schoolboy asked about the dictionary he was reading. “Fascinating,” he replied, “except that the author keeps changing the subject.” I felt a wee bit like that schoolboy as I listened to this huge collection of Fanfares recently released by Chandos.

Fanfares are a ubiquitous part of British Music making, often associated with special civic and national events. I needed a strategy to get to grips with them. It is simply not possible for most listeners (including me) to put this CD into the player, press ‘Go’, and sit back and ‘relax.’ I thought first about taking it composer by composer. But even that brought problems. Only the most passionate Bliss ‘groupie’ could listen to 13 fanfares one after the other, not to mention eight by Albert Ketèlbey. I then thought about selecting by genre – municipal or royalty, perhaps, but that proved too difficult to categorise. Yet, here was a collection of more than 50 fanfares by a representative group of fourteen 20th century composers, some better-known than others. I finally opted to picking them off three or four at a time and then doing something else…

I confess to not having consciously heard many of these fanfares before. Take Malcolm Arnold, for example. I guess I have the most of his works in my CD/download/record collection. Certainly, looking through his work’s list, there seems relatively few major pieces that have not been recorded. Turning to the ‘Brass Section’ of his catalogue, nearly all the major works are easily available, with Nimbus having issued the Complete Brass Works (excluding fanfares). It is these fanfares that are so hard to track down. So, for the completist, this CD goes a long way towards closing the gaps in the list. Premiere recordings of ‘A Richmond Fanfare’ and a ‘Fanfare for a Royal Occasion’ are given here. I was unable to find current, convenient versions of the ‘Railway Fanfare’, ‘Kingston Fanfare’ and the ‘Festival Fanfare’, all included on this disc, but not marked up as premiere recordings. They do probably exist somewhere in vinyl/cassette/CD/download/web, but I do not know where. On the other hand, the ‘obsessive’ is bound to be disappointed. Could Chandos not have squeezed in Arnold’s ‘Fanfare for Louis’, the composite ‘Fanfare for One, 80 Years Young’ (Bliss) with contributions from at least 13 other composers, the ‘Savile Club Centenary Fanfare’, to say nothing of two other works including percussion.

As noted above there are 13 fanfares composed by Sir Arthur Bliss. I guess examples of this genre was expected of him: he was Master of the Queen’s Music between 1953 and 1975. Two of the fanfares here, including the ‘Fanfare for a Dignified Occasion’ (1938) and ‘Fanfare for Heroes’ (1930) were written before he received his first butt of sack or whatever… There are plenty more Blissian fanfares to be recorded – at least another 17!

Dipping into the remainder of this CD, there are some splendid treats. As always Elisabeth Lutyens surprises the listener. Her ‘Fanfare for a Festival’ written in 1975 for the University of York, is approachable, piquant and contains none of the horrors so often (wrongly) associated with her musical style. The shortest piece on the CD is by Hamilton Harty, lasting a mere 21 seconds. It is over before it begins. But it is a good piece to have anthologised: it is the only work of its genre that Harty composed. Tick! The Leiston Suite by Imogen Holst is an indulgence. This is hardly a fanfare, as it has five short movements using two trumpets, trombone and tuba. It was composed for young musicians at a local school. Eric Coates’ two Fanfares both sound as if they are the opening bars of a forgotten marches. Good to have these. Frederick Curzon is best recalled for The Boulevardier and The Dance of the Ostracised Imp. The three ‘mini’ fanfares here are extracted from his ‘Six Brilliant Fanfares. All good stuff and not a sign of an imp, an elf or a fairy. And it is good to have some ‘hard to find’ Arnold Bax, including his ‘Royal Wedding Fanfares’ written for the wedding of Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth in 1947. I had never come across the ‘Hosting at Dawn’ with its hint of the Celtic Twilight. The spiky ‘Graduation Fanfare No. 2’ (2013) by Joseph Horowitz is a respectable way to bring this CD to a close.

The Onyx Brass ensemble with their friends, and conductor John Wilson provide splendid accounts of all these works. The liner notes, in English, German and French, by Richard Bratby, are a labour of love. I guess that they will become more of an important work of reference, than a ‘right rivetin’ read.’ The recording showcases the brassy sound of these 50-odd works ideally.

I wonder who will buy this CD? I have alluded to ‘completists’ above, and they will be the top candidates. But, as noted, there are plenty more ‘fanfares’ to go at before the catalogues can be marked off as complete. And then there will be the brass enthusiasts, who will demand this CD for its superb performances and great suggestions for repertoire. I think that most of these fanfares are ephemeral, occasional works, whose ‘occasion’ has long passed. Yet there is much good music here that does not deserve to be lost. Maybe it is necessary for brass bands, ensembles and orchestras to revisit some of them and introduce their concerts with a carefully chosen example. This is the only way that these fanfares will stay in the repertoire beyond the 58 tracks on this CD.

I am sure the reader will forgive me for not discussing the works of Howells, Tippett, Bantock, Haydn Wood or Ketèlbey. I just want to go and listen to something without any brass instruments. Anything!

John France

Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Fanfare for Schools (1943) [0:52]
Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006) Festival Fanfare (1961) [1:16]; Kingston Fanfare (1959) [0:33]; A Richmond Fanfare (1957) [0:33]; Railway Fanfare (1975) [1:32]; Fanfare for a Royal Occasion (1956) [1:17]
Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975) Fanfare to Precede the National Anthem (1960) [0:32]; National Anthem [0:55]; The Right of the Line (1965) [1:26]; Fanfare for the Princess Anne (1973) [0:59]; High Sheriff’s Fanfare (1963) [0:28]; A Salute to Painting (1954) [1:20]; Research Fanfare (1973) [1:32]; Peace Fanfare (1944) [0:38]; Let the People Sing (1960) [0:22]; Fanfare for a Dignified Occasion (1938) [0:28]; Fanfare for Heroes (1930) [1:46]; Homage to Shakespeare (1973) [1:07]; Fanfare (1944) [1:17]
Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998) Fanfare No. 3 (1953) [0:57]; The Wolf Trap Fanfare (1980) [1:09]
Sir Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946) Fanfare (1921) [0:22]
Eric COATES (1886-1957) Two Fanfares (c. 1943) [1:02]
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959) Fanfare No. 3 (1938) [0:47]; Six Fanfares (1945) [2:25]
Imogen HOLST (1907-1984) Fanfare for Thaxted (1966) [3:02]
Fanfare for the Grenadier Guards (1966) [2:25]; Leiston Suite (1967) [6:13]
Albert W. KETÈLBEY (1875-1959) Coronation Fanfare (1937/1952) [0:50] Fanfares Nos 1 & 2 for a Naval Occasion (1943) [1:34]; Fanfare for Victory (1944) [1:17]; Fanfare for the Royal Artillery (1944) [0:54]; Short Fanfare for the Air Force (published 1953) [0:33]; Fanfare for a Ceremonial Occasion (1935) [0:57]
Sir Hamilton HARTY (1879-1941) Fanfare (1921) [0:21];
Frederic CURZON (1899-1973) Fanfare Nos 4-6 (1938) [1:31]
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-1983) Fanfare for a Festival (1975) [4:18]
Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Hosting at Dawn (1921) [0:36]; Fanfare for a Cheerful Occasion (1930) [0:51]; Two Fanfares for ‘Show Business’ (1951) [1:21]; Royal Wedding Fanfares (1947) [2:19]; Salute to Sydney (1943) [1:11]
Joseph HOROVITZ (b. 1926) Graduation Fanfare No. 2 (2013) [2:09]



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