Heritage Series Box SetThe International Staff Band of The Salvation Army
This box set from The Salvation Army's flagship brass band is groundbreaking in so far as it comprises high-class recordings of Salvation Army music spanning nine decades, accompanied by insightful recorded conversation about the progression and development of the featured repertoire.
Beautifully packaged in an attractive box are eight separate CD releases recorded between November 2008 and April 2015. We begin with 15 marches composed between 1912 and 1930 forming Regeneration - Marches from a Golden Era before seven volumes, each dedicated to music of a specific decade from the 1930s through to the ‘90s, combine to produce the Heritage Series Vol. 1-7.
In addition to some fantastic playing, each release boasts excellent booklet notes by Dr. Ronald W. Holz, and I particularly enjoyed the relaxed and informative conversations between Lt. Colonel (Dr.) Ray Steadman-Allen and Dr. Stephen Cobb that conclude each volume. Sadly Dr. Steadman-Allen passed away before the final volume was completed, but I’m sure that Ray will have been smiling down from Heaven as William Himes takes over to discuss the music chosen for Vol. 7 with Dr. Cobb.
Featured in this box set are 126 pieces including fantastic solo contributions from Kevin Ashman, David Daws, Philip Cobb, Derick Kane, Andrew Justice and many more - all written by the very best Salvationist composers.
For me, two discs were of great personal interest. Firstly Heritage Series Vol. 3 - Music from the 1950s, which includes a re-mastered 1957 recording of the cornet solo, Wondrous Day by Eric Liedzen, performed by Roland Cobb, the father of Dr. Stephen Cobb. Roland was for many years the illustrious Principal Cornet of The International Staff Band (ISB) and also Principal Cornet of the Band of the Welsh Guards, in which I also served. I was privileged to sit alongside Roland and was always in awe of his brilliant playing, wonderful full tone and clear articulation. I remember being in the dressing room before a concert on the Tunbridge Wells Bandstand and Roland opening a package containing a manuscript of a solo that he had received to play at a Salvation Army Festival in the Royal Albert Hall. He placed the music on the window ledge, and as he had not yet taken his cornet out of the case, but I had, I attempted a few bars of this difficult new solo and then rather cheekily turned to Roland, and said: “I played
it first!” Of course it was Wondrous Day and, needless to say, his playing of it on this recording is magnificent, more especially so as I know it was recorded in one take!
Also of particular personal interest is Heritage Series Vol. 7 - Music from the 1990s, which includes Robert Redhead’s Isaiah 40, the test-piece used at the 1996 British Championship Section National Final. I was one of the adjudicators on that occasion and remember the top four bands in order being: CWS (Glasgow), Grimethorpe Colliery, Black Dyke Mills and Williams Fairey. I know that it could not possibly happen, but if they had performed that day displaying the control, immaculate solo playing, wonderful sounds (and If I may say so, the spiritual message that seems to come through in Stephen Cobb’s interpretation), I have no doubt that we, the adjudicators, would have been considering The ISB for the top honour along with those four bands.
Another item out of this treasure of music is Kenneth Downie’s The Trumpet Call - an extended cornet solo played by David Daws, in which the composer pays subtle homage to Eric Ball and his trumpet solo of the 1930s, The Challenge. Here the soloist is absolutely brilliant, displaying great artistry in technique, musicality and sound. His upper register playing is right up there among the angels and he effortlessly changes style with such grace from the clarion call of the trumpet, to the beautiful soul-searching style of hymn tune playing - not an easy thing to do. As is the case with all of the high-class solo playing featured in the Heritage Series, the band is immaculate in its loyal and sympathetic accompaniment of the soloist and, although no longer playing the cornet, we have not lost David’s wonderful talent because he is now Principal Euphonium with Virtuosi
Other items on Vol. 7 of further interest to non-Salvationists are Shine as the Light by Peter Graham and Leonard Ballantine’s setting of ‘Mid all the Traffic - both extremely popular SA publications that have become favourites in secular band concert programmes. I know that this compendium of fine music, performed throughout at the very highest level, will obviously appeal to all Salvationists, but I have no hesitation in recommending it to musicians of any genre. Stephen Cobb is to be congratulated for his superb musical direction, together with the World of Sound team led by Executive Producer, Trevor Caffull, for allowing Salvationists and non-Salvationists alike to witness and enjoy such substantial and supreme music.
DAVID READ MBE