CD Review: Vain Resistance

Posted by Martin Cordner on Monday, November 28, 2016 Under: cd recordings

When a piece of mine is recorded I always appreciate receiving a complimentary CD, so I say thank you to the Amsterdam Staff Band for sending me their latest recording. I have listened to it a few times and to help you decide whether or not to spend your hard-earned cash on it, I thought I would share my feelings on the recording.

First up, the CD is in a unique rounded-edged case which is nice to hold in the hand. The sleeve notes are a little hard to read because of the chosen colours, but they are against the backdrop of some very imaginative photography. Content-wise the notes have been put together by Dr Ronald Holz, so are helpful and comprehensive. The front cover artwork is not quite as imaginative as the bands recent CDs (it has a bit of a WordArt vibe about it), but it says what it is and the Easter graphics reinforce the theme that ‘God is stronger than his foes’.

1. Let there be light
In terms of the music we get off to an exciting start with this overture by Steven Ponsford. Incidentally the composer’s name is spelt correctly in the notes but is misspelled ‘Stephen’ on the back cover. This short opener is a bright and tuneful workout for band built around the worship song ‘Light of the world (Here I am to worship)’. Harmonically I don’t think it is as solid as some of Steven’s other works (it may be an older piece?) however this is an excellent programme opener and overall the band handle it well.

2. Wells
Sam Creamer’s arrangement of Bortniansky’s soothing melody begins with a presentation of the tune by the Trombones and, associated with the words ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me’ it develops musically with each verse. It’s a good arrangement and for me is one of the more pleasing items on the CD, with the band demonstrating some very nice lyrical playing.

3. Call of the Seasons
Don't get me wrong, Philip Catelinet was a super-talented Tuba player, conductor and composer, however I have found his Euphonium Solo a very peculiar work indeed with an unfamiliar melody and extended passages where the soloist really isn’t featured prominently. I think it is growing on me though, and soloist Michel Rosenquist (who is a very good player) certainly helps by demonstrating good range and technique. Perhaps to get used to it I need to give it…a season or two!

4. ‘…Bought with your blood’
This is an interesting reflective item written by the Bandmaster, Olaf Ritman. For me it is a blend of Bill Broughton-style hymn setting (think ‘In Perfect Peace’ or ‘Nothing but thy blood’) and a more classical setting such as Heaton’s ‘My Treasure’. Actually, like Heaton’s work this reflective piece has a George Marshall tune (‘Sealed by Thy Spirit’) at its core. The work evokes several moods and there are some very nice harmonic moments. I think this style of piece suits the present ASB very well, it is very well balanced and controlled (possibly because the composer is stood in front of the band!).

5. Liebesleid
Baritone soloist Jorijn van Hese is one of the band’s most talented players. He has released a number of Euphonium multitrack CDs and YouTube videos in recent years which are all worth a look. Here he treats Don Morrison’s arrangement with all the grace and fluidity this short Kreisler waltz requires. It isn’t a solo for dazzling the audience with technical ability (though I have no doubt Jorijn could do that), but it is a foot-tapping ray of sunshine for blue Mondays. It’ll put a smile on your face.

6. Blue Marble
My own work is featured next. The music attempts to paint a picture of the biblical creation story as told in Genesis. I have my own views on the piece, but shall leave the comments to others! However, the band do remarkably well with this Suite, for which I am very grateful. The slow opening movement (‘Heavens, earth and sky’) is particularly impressive; the music is marked pianissimo for the most part and requires low bass pedals as well as high and exposed muted cornet passages, all of which the band handle very well. For brevity I won’t comment on all the movements (there are six!) but suffice to say this is very descriptive music which requires a band to flex into a variety of styles, and overall the ASB do very well in drawing out the myriad of shapes and musical colours. Thank you!

7. Hold that fort!
Sam Creamer’s second contribution to the recording is a funk setting of the old-time Army song (which I know best from Norman Bearcroft’s march Temple 85!) Creamer has a real gift for music of this genre and though brass bands don’t always adapt well to this kind of thing, the ASB demonstrate that right here, right now they don’t have that problem.

8. ‘Rhapsody for Cornet and Band’
This work by Olaf Ritman features the bands’ principal Cornetist Steef Klepke. With lip trills and glissandi, the soloist demonstrates good dexterity, but also good range and substance of sound. There are some clever ideas from the composer as he deals with the central tune of the work, Commissioner Stanley Ditmer’s song ‘I’m in His hands’. Whilst structured as a fast-slow-fast (sonata form) work it is not truly rhapsodic, but it is an enjoyable enough piece for the mainstream listener.

9. The Hill of Calvary
The oldest work on the disc is this selection by Bramwell Coles that dates back to the Second World War. I have fond memories of ‘Divine Communion’ on an older ASB album ‘Joyful’ (1992) and this work evokes the same kind of emotions, and the band even sounds similar too. The work gives weight to the adage ‘less is more’. Listening to this is a very restful experience.

10. Vain Resistance
The three-movement title work of this recording was written for the ASB by Olaf Ritman. In terms of structure and style it shares similarities with Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s ‘Fire in the Blood’. It is built around the song ‘Jehovah is our strength’ and takes as its central theme the idea that because God is almighty we can put our trust in him. I feel it isn’t the strongest of the four Ritman compositions here but nonetheless with good playing and melodies to hum along to it is enjoyable enough.

11. Triumphant Prospect
I am always pleased to see the inclusion of a march on any brass band recording, and this one by Ritman, subtitled a ‘quick march’ is an entertaining romp which the band clearly enjoy.

With music ranging from 1945 to the present day there is a good blend of old and new on this disc. Also, it is evident that the band enjoys their ministry and the leadership of their charismatic Bandmaster Olaf Ritman, so the music is enthusiastically presented. In terms of playing I think I prefer the more lyrical style from this band, but overall this is one of their more entertaining discs to date and most importantly, the artwork and notes give plenty to consider in relation to who it is we put our trust in. 

Bravo ASB, keep them coming!


In : cd recordings 

Tags: "amsterdam staff band" "blue marble" 
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