Earthquake! - Soli Brass
Aliud ACD HA 011-2
The years 2005 and 2006 were one of the most memorable periods of Soli Brass‘ respectable history. The next high point came in December 2005 during the Dutch Brass Band Championships . After 20 years, Soli Brass brought the coveted honor back to Leeuwarden again.
This new CD by Soli Brass is aural retrospective of this spectacular period. It was truly an earthquake!
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Review by John Miller - May 26, 2009
British-style brass bands have a long tradition of music-making in poorer industrial areas of the UK, especially in the C19th and early C20th. They also became popular in the British Commonwealth countries as well as in continental Europe, Norway and even the USA. A major part of this tradition involves strong competition between bands, which pushes forward the musical and technical skills of the players, and also stirs composers to write special pieces or arrangements to show off the bands' skills.
Soli Brass are a 31-piece band from the Netherlands, and this disc celebrates their winning the 2005 Dutch National Brass Band Championships. At the time of recording, the band numbered a Soprano Cornet, Principal Cornet, 3 Solo Cornets, a Repiano Cornet, 3 Second Cornets, 3 Third Cornets, Flugel Horn, Solo, First and Second Horns, First and Second Baritones, 2 Euphoniums, Solo, Second and Bass Trombones, 2 E flat basses, 2 B flat basses and four percussionists. The sound of such bands evolved to provide not only brilliance and power, but a deeply emotional and lyrical character, giving a sound which is truly memorable and moving. As well as providing music for eager audiences, brass bands also provide superb training for young musicians, who often move on to become professionals with stellar careers.
Brass Band music itself is a gathering place for different music styles; 'classical' (i.e. symphonic) meets jazz, hymns, Spirituals, Broadway and Popular, with no barriers between 'serious' and 'light' music. This disc nicely showcases the band's versatility in presenting traditional, concert, competition and virtuosic works, several of which were written specially for Soli Brass.
Arthur Willering's piece 'Solidus', written for the band as a rousing opening gambit, is a richly-scored Fanfare, with a central atmospheric and solemn hymn-like section on the lower brass, capped by a bright percussion-led reprise. Peter Graham's 'The Red Machine', written for the Grenadier Guards as a concert piece, begins with a rhythm-driven mechanistic (and militaristic) section, giving the cornets many dazzling roulades, then quietens for a long nostalgic sifting through a variety of musical memories, in which one can recognise the chorale tune 'Ein Feste Burg' and distant Westminster Chimes. This emotional and evocative music is wonderfully scored, and Soli Brass make the most of its many instrumental colours and combinations. A return to the mechanistic music is finally overwhelmed by the majestically swelling Chorale returning in an uplifting coda.
'My Unchanging Friend' by Ivor Bosanko was written for the Salvation Army, and gives the euphonium soloist a chance to fluently portray Friendship in its many guises. Then in contrast, Torstein Aagaard-Nilsson's 'Nocturne' is a calm and deep portrait of night, requiring extraordinary breath control in its long soft notes and chords. Night is swept away by 'Joyous Song' from Richard Phillips, which allows Johan Breetwald, Principal Cornet, to display his brilliant virtuosity in a vivacious bustling and busy piece full of good tunes and a liberal dose of schmaltz at the end.
At the heart of this programme is the winning competition piece from the 2005 Championship, written for the band by Jan de Haan. This track is the winning live performance itself. Entitled 'Earthquake!' it is a tour de force of technical brilliance, severely challenging even the percussionists in portraying the terror and confusion of an earthquake and its aftershocks - finally resolving into tentative hope for the future. Like Icelandic composer Jón Leifs, de Haan uses a battery of novel percussion effects and instrumental textures, which are skilfully coordinated by the band's young conductor Franz-Aert Burgengraef into a tautly thrilling experience. As a live recording, it has some discreet audience noise in the quieter parts, and the listeners respond most enthusiastically at the end, the applause being faded quite rapidly.
Returning to the studio recording (Track 7, Dunlap's Creek is only on the RBCD layer), a relaxing change brings a solo singer and pianist fronting the band in their Jazz Mode. Rianna Botma sings her own affecting song, coloured with many solo touches from the band, including a convincing imitation of an oboe by the cornet. More of the Jazz influence comes with 'Swing Low', when the old Spiritual is given a real funky Swing by the Big Band Sound - without saxophones. Finishing the programme, 'Kopanitza' by Paul Dzon uses Balkan 11/8 metre for a pacey and brilliant Slavic dance, giving glittering opportunities for the soloists.
Jos Boerland's pure DSD recording is naturally balanced, without close-up exaggeration, and presents a pin-sharp focussed image of the band, capturing their huge dynamic range authoritatively. The surrounds produce plenty of acoustic atmosphere in 5.1 mode, and this disc can be played very loudly, to thrilling effect, with plenty of LF energy from the deep brass and bass drum.
This disc portrays Soli Brass at the peak of its form, superbly directed by its conductor, and with whiplash-tight ensemble playing which is a great pleasure to hear.
A musical treat for the ears, and a sonic spectacular for a good sytem, then. Don't miss this one, especially if you haven't heard the thrilling sound of a big Brass Band before.
Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net