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Brass Band Review Print

Triangle Youth Brass Sparkles with Sparke

May 23, 2009 - Raleigh, NC:

You didn’t need the printed sheet to tell you who was the next composer on the Triangle Brass program. Each and every offering in Meymandi Concert Hall was composed or arranged by Philip Sparke, a native of London, and certainly a bright light for British band music in England and throughout the world. The Triangle Youth Brass Ensemble (TYBE) and the Triangle Youth Brass Band (TYBB) played a total of nine of his works, all conducted by the composer himself.

The TYBE are the “junior partners” in Triangle Brass circles, performing for the first half of the evening. Their best work was elicited in "Ballad for Benny" and "A Klezmer Karnival." Sparke composed the ballad in 2001 for his four-year-old son. The players emphasized its adagio qualities, appropriately sweet and appealing without being the least bit treacly. The composer introduced the selections in a personable and witty style, properly compensating for the lack of program notes. He explained that the “Karnival” was based upon lively and happy Jewish folk songs. The band sounded like a mature group with these rollicking dances.

One of Sparke’s earliest works, Concert Prelude (1975), served as the descriptively named opener for the TYBB. The Jubilee Overture was commissioned for the fiftieth anniversary of an English band. This (also early) piece challenged every instrument in the group at one point or another, demonstrating their high level of preparation. The programmatic "Mountain Song" was as charming and well realized as one is likely to encounter. Here the climber ascends a small Austrian mountain to the insistent ringing of the Sunday morning church bells. The bells die away as the music intensifies, only to re-emerge as the hiker descends.

The most stately and grand piece of the evening was the Earl of Oxford’s March, yet another adaptation of William Byrd’s great work from the seventeenth century. (In the language of the day, it would have read “The Marche before the Battell.”) The differences seemed subtle between this present adaptation and the familiar earlier one by Gordon Jacob. This masterly march showed the players at their finest. Closing the program was, A Malvern Suite a rather large programmatic piece of three movements. The “program” celebrated three scenes from the hill country of England as one looks toward Wales in the west. The music suggested a pastoral countryside of powerful appeal.

The musical reach and variety of these pieces exhibited the wonder of wind ensembles, and they demonstrated why the composer/conductor is held in such high esteem.