The Band of the Scots Guards: Bliss and Walton

0 of 5 stars

Suite: An Age of Kings (arr. Erickson)
March: Welcome the Queen (arr. Duthoit)
March of Homage in honour of a great man (arr. Duthoit)
Fanfare for Heroes
Things to Come (selection arr. Godfrey)
Gala Fanfare (arr. Duthoit)
March: Call to Adventure (arr. Duthoit)
The Linburn Air (arr. Statham)
Fanfare for the Lord mayor of London
Royal Palace Music (arr. Erickson)
Greetings to a City
Grand March: The First Guards (arr. Duthoit)


58 minutes

A Queen’s Fanfare
Coronation March: Orb and Sceptre (arr. Richardson)
Henry V – Suite (arr. Phillips)
Anniversary Fanfare
Coronation March: Crown Imperial arr. Duthoit)
A Shakespeare Suite – Richard III (arr. Bunyan)
Fanfare for a Great Occasion (arr. Sargent)
March for Concert Band (arr. Vinter)
Battle of Britain – Suite (arr. Hingley)
Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (arr. Bashford/Walker)


70 minutes

The Band of the Scots Guards
Major R J Owen – Director of Music

Both CDs recorded in The Chapel, The Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London – Bliss in May 2001, Walton in May 2002


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2005
CD No: See above
Duration: See above

One can always catch up. One can also be persuaded to open up one’s defences. While this writer is usually bowled over by the quality of playing that brass and military bands produce, there is also the issue of repertoire (arrangements of orchestral works, and novelty numbers) that can negate the musical excellence of the performance. And, there’s the ‘bandstand’ aspect, too, when there can be a duty-bound, rather ritualistic response, one that takes the ‘critic’ further into Beckmesser’s corner! Enter the Specialist Record Company.

SRC does indeed specialise – in the ‘military band’ complement of woodwinds, brass and percussion. Neither of these CDs is brand new (hence the ‘catching up’), and both are superb in every criteria. Away from ceremonial assignments, The Band of the Scots Guards, as any such outfit would do (one imagines), is able to set-down under dedicated studio conditions performances that have a flexibility and expressiveness that raises one’s appreciation of the medium.

The Bliss release includes Fanfare for Heroes, music that this writer has heard a couple of times (once conducted by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies) and has longed for a recording. This one is exemplary, perfectly paced and shaped. The Band of the Scots Guards is a superb ensemble; that was to be expected. Yet, one looks at the pieces that are arranged, and one has doubts: Things to Come not played by an orchestra! Yet, it works well in this sympathetic arrangement by Dan Godfrey (one time conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) and is distinguished by characterful woodwind contributions from the Band; and, once more, Major Owen paces the music with justness. He takes the famous March at just the right stride, too.

And then one hears unfamiliar Bliss (probably the composer has fallen by the wayside a bit, certainly in the concert hall) and is won over by his sense of ceremony and drama – either as originally conceived or as arranged. Welcome the Queen is a terrific march and bursts with pride here. The Lord Mayor of London was done proud at the time, and things like the Royal Palace Music have a sense of perspective that is undeniably impressive, and the extended Flourish for double brass choir entitled Greetings to a City is a sonorous spectacular.

The variety of timbres available – the brass consort alone having many spine-tingling sounds to offer – makes the doubting listener re-think. This success also has something to do with SRC’s presentation, which is attractively straightforward and includes notes, recording information, the Band’s personnel and a couple of photographs, including one of the recording venue common to both of these CDs: The Chapel, The Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Being able to see the location is a nice touch.

And, above all, the recording quality is outstanding; one can touch the sound. Balance, blend, lucidity and tonal faithfulness are truly of demonstration quality, and are captured in an ideal location that never intercedes between the musicians and the listener.

For the Walton CD, also recorded in The Royal Hospital, the sound initially seems to have less impact (the engineer is Andrew Hallifax rather than Philip Hobbs) and one needs more volume to gain a full sound; when achieved the reproduction is more spacious than for Bliss, although there are times, later, when the amplitude relished in the Bliss is once again to be heard.

What a swagger Walton brought to his music! The ideal man for an occasion, Royal or otherwise. Maybe these arrangements aren’t quite so successful (perhaps because Walton was such a master of the orchestra) and Orb and Sceptre sounds rather cautious in tempo if not in execution. Its earlier Coronation March companion, Crown Imperial, is superbly done, though, and the arrangement here is of the original, longer version. Some of the sounds heard here are tremendous. Walton’s music for Henry V works pretty well, too, although I do wish Don Phillips had thought again about adding some delicate bell sounds to ‘Touch Her Soft Lips and Part’; terribly twee; and such a pity when the woodwinds make an effective substitute for the original strings in this poignant masterpiece.

A Shakespeare Suite comes off especially well, and the Fanfare for a Great Occasion is thrilling. The Anniversary Fanfare, although stand-alone, was written, if needed, to be a preface to Orb and Sceptre; it would have been nice to have the two in tandem. The March for Concert Band seems in places to be Orb and Sceptre re-written, either by Walton (not slow to self-borrow) or by Gilbert Vinter; its middle section waxes lyrical in typically generous fashion.

The Battle of Britain music is good to have in any arrangement and is compelling here; Orb and Sceptre again looks in (!) and there’s some gentle parody of Wagner. The Spitfire music, from two arrangers, is mixed in achievement; the Fugue really needs strings. Overall, another fine CD. The quality of music-making and recording encourages one to investigate further.

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