This is a terrific record of terrific music. The Central Band of the RAF (military bands include a variety of woodwind instruments) is on top form – which is saying a lot, especially in such technically demanding and rhythmically challenging music as the respective finales of Holst’s First Suite and of the Tomlinson. This is consistently brilliant and most musical playing; indeed, throughout this disc, it is impossible to imagine finer performances than these.
One’s only query is a familiar one these days: why isn’t this music better-known? Time was when open-air concerts were frequently encountered during the summer months, and music of this strong character was often heard: today, especially for the younger generation, it must seem as though it comes from Planet Zeron. But it is only through such splendid recordings as this that people now have the opportunity of coming into contact with this repertoire: one hopes that this disc will get plenty of air-play, for musically it deserves it, as well as producing what one might term the slip-stream effect of awakening people’s eyes and ears as to what the RAF can offer young people.
Much of the music will be relatively familiar, however, to those who recall earlier recordings of such repertoire, where the legendary team of Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble holds a special place, yet the RAF Central Band and Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs are in a similar class. Where this release scores considerably is in the additional works by Ernest Tomlinson (born 1924) and Gordon Langford (born 1930). Both composers are leaders of what might be termed the lighter areas of classical music, and as a consequence their more ‘serious’ works are often overlooked. I hope very much that this disc will go some way to rehabilitating them – it certainly deserves to in Tomlinson’s case, for a self-evident masterpiece such as his Sinfonia ’62 for rock group, jazz combo and symphony orchestra deserves to be acclaimed internationally. It is an absolutely astounding piece of music, premiered by the BBC Northern – now BBC Philharmonic – in the days when the BBC used to lead instead of following. Tomlinson is now 90 years old (Langford soon to be a mere 85!), and such belated recognition as a recording of Sinfonia ‘62 – and its more impacted successor, the Symphony 1965 – would bring to its modest composer nothing less than he deserves.
Be that as it may, such music would not fall under the remit of Wing Commander Stubbs and his gifted musicians, so we must hope that this Chandos disc – of consistently wonderful tunes (deeply affecting and foot-tapping rousing) and superb craftsmanship – will lead to more recordings from them and perhaps works from composers of the younger generation. The sound-quality is totally splendid and the disc is further enhanced by an outstanding booklet note – in effect, an essay – on the music by Giles Easterbrook. Enthusiastically recommended!