Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks (review)

Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks is the latest release from The Symphonic Brass of London. It adds exciting new colours to the piano works of the early twentieth century French composers Claude Debussy, Georges Auric, Darius Milhaud and Erik Satie while exploring the influence of ‘ragtime’ music and ‘cakewalks’ on their work. A showcase of these styles would, of course, be incomplete without the American ‘King of Ragtime’ – Scott Joplin, whose lesser known works thread this series together nicely. 

This project has been masterfully collated by the ensemble’s Artistic Director, Eric Crees, who has researched each of these responses to the ragtime and cakewalk traditions with great detail and – with his widely celebrated orchestrating skill – has transformed each piece into new works for a line-up of ten-piece brass ensemble and two percussion. 

This clever work has been brought to life by the musicians of The Symphonic Brass of London, a hand-picked pool of players who come together with a brilliant orchestral sound but with the versatility needed to bring a varied programme to life. This release follows the ensemble’s 2014 fantastic debut album ‘A Bridge Over the Pyrenees’.

With such a specific focus on style, influence and era, you might expect many of the pieces on the album to sound similar, but this is a varied and carefully balanced programme. This music has it all; it’s sometimes calm – with a special nod to La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair). It has moments of terror, and is both lively and serene.  The satirical nature of this music is enhanced by the characterful brass. These works successfully highlight the immense capabilities of the brass ensemble, tastefully lifted by the percussion. 

This delightful collection is not just a display of brilliant brass playing and directorship, but these arrangements are so clearly a successful enhancement to what is already exciting music. This is a classy creation and everyone will find plenty to enjoy here.

The Symphonic Brass of London

Eric Crees Conductor

James Fountain, Chris Deacon Piccolo Trumpet

Paul Archibald, Katie Smith Trumpet

Bruce Nockles Flugel Horn/Trumpet

Hugh Seenan Horn

Christopher Houlding, Simon Wills, Nick Lloyd Trombone

Christian Jones Bass Trombone

Adrian Miotti Tuba

Scott Bywater, Jonathan Kitchen Percussion

Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks is available to purchase from The Symphonic Brass of London’s website.

Review first written for the Spring 2020 edition of The Trombonist.