It might seem that 58 (count 'em) fanfares would become monotonous, even with a break in the middle for the only slightly different Leiston Suite of Imogen Holst. Most of the pieces are short, just shy or just in excess of a minute, and most share the instrumentation of three trumpets and three trombones, or something similar. Yet the whole project is fascinating. It's not just that these are largely unfamiliar pieces, although that's part of it: the program as a whole shows how British composers remained tied to the wider society as their counterparts in other countries retreated to the ivory tower. Consider the amusingly named Research Fanfare of Sir Arthur Bliss, written for a medical research group. Even noted serialist Elisabeth Lutyens got into the fanfare act. It's not just the fine work of the Onyx Brass, captured in full Surround Sound by Chandos engineers, although possessors of fine equipment may want the album for that reason. But the immediate appeal of the music is really the thing: what's impressive is how these composers achieve individuality even in such a small medium. Within 50 or 60 seconds, with the harmonic moves pretty much prescribed (some of the pieces even end on half cadences like actual military fanfares), the pieces develop in entirely different ways. Those of Malcolm Arnold near the beginning are some of the best, but your attention is held throughout. One can easily imagine these pieces being used in composition classes, illustrating how composers respond to the challenge of a highly restricted medium. But of course they're viscerally fun as well. A really nice find unlike anything else in the brass ensemble catalog.
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