HESS New London Pictures. Ladies in Lavender: Theme. The Lochnagar Suite. Monck’s March. Shakespeare Pictures • Nigel Hess, cond; Central Band of The Royal Air Force • CHANDOS 10767 (63: 30)
There is no doubting the impressive recording here, nor the enthusiastic and expert playing of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force, in this second volume of music for symphonic wind orchestra by Nigel Hess. The first volume was reviewed by Paul A. Snook inRead moreFanfare 23:5. Hess (b. 1953) is best known for his music for film and television. All the pieces here bar one (Monck’s March) are either premiere recordings or premiere recordings in the particular arrangement heard here.
It would not be surprising if this disc found its way into demonstration showrooms. The sound is fabulous, so hats off to Gareth Williams (co-producer with the composer, and also, critically, the sound engineer). The venue is (unsurprisingly, perhaps) new to me: the RAF Music Studios in Northolt, Middlesex.
First up is the New London Pictures of 2003. The glitzy scoring of “Millennium Bridge” leads to the expansive melody for the central slow movement, “London Eye”. We Britishers will recognize the aura of the music from many of Hess’s TV scores. Luxuriant, mightily easy on the ear, and beautifully scored, it leads to the bright and brash “Congestion Charge.” Here, a depiction in sound of traffic (remember Gershwin’s American in Paris?) vies with music that seems to depict some sort of zany slapstick. It is all great fun. But do I need to hear it more than once?
The brief (under four minutes) theme from the film Ladies in Lavender features a lovely flute melody, ably delivered here. I suppose I should describe it as highly scented. It is, but it hurts me to do so, probably as much as it hurts you to read it. The truth is that this is so entirely background music, it is difficult to believe that people actually sit and give their full attention to it. The Lochnagar Suite (2007), from the ballet The Old Man of Lochnagar (based on a children’s’ book), shows how Hess can be wonderfully specific geographically, while adding yet more hints of Gershwinesque jazz (try the melodic twists of the first movement, “Scottish Dances”). All credit to the control of the players involved for the central “Dark Lochnagar” (a depiction of the old man of the title’s search for love based on a Scottish ballad). There is some magical scoring here.
The 10-minute concert overture Monck’s March (2002) is nicely evocative of the adventures of General Monck, and in the spirit of the disc as a whole it is blissfully undemanding of its listeners. The suite Shakespeare’s Pictures (2008) holds three events/movements: “Much Ado About Nothing” (light and frothy, and played as such); the gentle “The Winter’s Tale: The Statue”; and “Julius Caesar: The Entry to the Senate,” which contains music of much nobility. The music here originated in music composed for productions at Stratford-upon-Avon. Finally, there comes A Christmas Overture (2007). It feels a bit wrong to be reviewing this in late July in the midst of a (very, very, very) rare heat wave in England, but there is no doubting the ingenuity of Hess’s warmly scored piece of fun. That’s warm in the sense of an oven-warmed mince pie. And it’ll be Christmas soon enough, anyway.
Great fun all round, with all the music performed with real affection, plus a sonic spectacular. What more could you ask?
Derivative and UnoriginalDecember 12, 2014By Steven A. (Burke, VA)See All My Reviews"In spite of some positive reviews to my ears Nigel Hess music is derivative and unoriginal. It appears to me that successful contemporary tonal composers still succeed in achieving a unique sound world. One of my favorites is the late 20th Century British composer George Lloyd. Even though his music is very tonal it still has an original sound. In my experience a mediocre composer just rehashes what others have done and there is nothing in their music that is unique. I find this particularly true of the secondary composers of the classical period. There are certain mannerisms, scale patterns, chord progressions and arpeggio patterns that where very common in the music of that period. P. D Q. Bach did a marvelous job a satirizing these conventions. What made Mozart and Haydn so great is how they employed the same techniques and still create a unique original sound world. Now we come to the music of Nigel Hess. When one steals from one source it is plagiarism, when one steals from many sources it is research. This is very well researched music. In over one hour of music I rarely heard any original ideas. But overall this is really mediocre music. He totally reuses one popular music cliche after another. He employs all of these marvelous musical colors and the final results is grey. The one positive note I could say about Hess is that he is a superb orchestrator (since this is band music, maybe bandstrator would be a more accurate term). The performance and recording of the Central Band of the Air Force is excellent."Report Abuse