REVIEW 2008 CD cover - 'Neath Austral Skies'Neath Austral Skies 18-Apr-2008 A reminder of when solo playing was an art form in itself and the music asked for qualities of a bygone age. Mr Emmerik rolls back the years with tasteful ease. ~ Buy with 4barsrest shopping Matthew Van Emmerik Kew Band Melbourne Conductor: Mark Ford MVE Recordings: CD001 Total Playing Time: 59.53mins Despite the many problems faced by the brass band movements in Australia and New Zealand, the culture of individual competition in the form of solo events still remains strong. Anyone who has enjoyed the delights of the Ern Keller International Contest in Sydney, or the domestic struggles for individual glory at both the Australian and New Zealand National Championships can attest that it is a tradition that still has a great deal of relevance. The 'Champion of Champions' contest at both events still hold an immense amount of prestige. Australian banding has produced a host of great solo exponents over the years, from the amazing cornet player Arthur Stender (who won more medals to display on his chest than Idi Amin could muster) and Hugh McMahon ('The Emperor of the Cornet') to latter day virtuosi of the craft such as euphonium player Joe Cook and cornetist Christina Bowden. Today, that formidable production line of talent continues with euphonium star Matthew van Emmerick, who has produced this highly enjoyable release that pays homage to some of the greatest compositional names that built the repertoire that those players showcased over the years. It is a timely piece of conservation work too: Many of the works featured have run their musical course; small, rather idiosyncratic gems of genres that may never again come back into common usage - the true Caprice, Polka, or the thematic musical portrait. Most have now been lost forever in the midst's of time (what of McMahon's 'The Trills', Alex Lithgow's 'Lads of Tassie' or Thomas Bulch's 'Faint and Wearily'?) but thankfully, a few priceless jewels such as those played here remain as brightly polished as the day they were written. There was an art to writing pieces such as these and none were better it seems than Percy Code (he of 'Zelda' fame) and Helen Johnston (a name not as readily familiar in Northern hemisphere banding, but revered in Australia in particular). Five of her works and one by Code are featured - the former all expertly arranged by Joe Cook, who also provides a stirring opening march. Two more modern pieces are provided by the pen of Mike Fitzpatrick. Johnston's pieces seem peculiarly dated in style - almost Edwardian in concept and execution - perhaps a reflection of her upbringing in an emerging brass banding environment in the second decade of the 20th century. Both 'Anna Karenina' and 'Anastasia' are affectionate musical portraits of the literary characters, whilst 'Endeavour' pays a slightly misplaced heroic homage to Captain Cook. Each has an identifiable sense of musical pastiche, whilst the charming slow melody 'Leonie' and the engaging, but idiosyncratic 'Carissima Mia' are curios of style and form. There is a sense that here was a composer with so much more to reveal of herself. Percy Code's 'Neath Austral Skies' is a classic of it's type (written in 1921 and played in winning style at the time by Arthur Stender at the Ballarat Contest) and the tell tale musical fingerprints of the man who gave us 'Zelda', 'Lucille' and 'Miranda' - he obviously had a thing for the ladies - are clear to hear. Each of the solo performances are delivered with an acute sense of style and understated bravura by the soloist - a true reflection of how they were played in their heyday, although the lack of almost uncontrollable vibrato is a pleasing omission (as heard so clearly on the additional track featuring a 1961 performance of 'Anna Karenina'). The opening march 'Beaconsfield' is a nice example of the art of writing a march in the style of a Lithgow or even Rimmer by Joe Cook, whilst Mike Fitzpatrick's 'At the Going Down of the Sun' is a poignant reminder of lives lost in battle. If there is a disappointment though it comes with the mismatch of 'Oirish' twaddle in Westlife meets Val Doonican in 'You Raise Me Up/Danny Boy' - which is as authentically Emerald Isle as one of those ubiquitous plastic Irish theme pubs that seem to spring up in every city in the world where a pint of Guinness can be sold. That really is the only weak point in a very worthy recording, that benefits from a high class soloist on top form, a band that accompanies him with precision and balance, and post production values that really are top notch, with the sleeve notes a particular delight. The proud heritage of soloist excellence has been restored to it's former glory. Iwan Fox What's on this CD? 1. March Beaconsfield, Joe Cook. 3.12 2. 'Neath Austral Skies, Percy Code. 7.42 3. You Raise Me Up Danny Boy, Original concept Daniel Gare arr Mike Fitzpatrick. 4.32 4. Anna Karenina, Helen Johnston. 7.52 5. Leonie, Helen Johnston. 3.43 6. Carissima Mia, Helen Johnston. 8.35 7. At the Going Down of The Sun, Mike Fitzpatrick. 6.44 8. Anastasia, Helen Johnston. 7.57 9. Endeavour, Helen Johnston. 9.36.