Salvation Army Royal Albert Hall Highlights, Volume 1: The Present Age
(Various bands and singers)
For many years The Salvation Army has held musical festivals bringing together singers and instrumentalists from the UK and further afield. These are frequently timed to coincide with gatherings of musical leaders from across the United Kingdom, and in recent years the venue has been the Royal Albert Hall. Certainly since the 1960s, recordings were made of these events, and subsequently released, initially on lp, then tape and cd, up until the dvd releases of the last couple of years.
The occasions are often used to showcase new music, with many major works receiving their premieres at the Councils Festivals, so there is a wealth of material to draw from. For this, the first release in a projected series, the compilation consists of fairly familiar repertoire, but it is hoped that future issues will feature some of the specially commissioned items written for the event, and which are infrequently heard due to the resources required. Equally, all the solo groups featured here are UK-based, whereas many overseas sections have attended over the years.
1965 saw The Salvation Army celebrating its Centenary (having started out as the East London Christian Mission in 1865) and the special events held during that year included the premieres of many new works, several of which have gained classic status. The old classics were not forgotten, however, as is seen by the inclusion of George Marshall’s march “Soldiers of Christ” alongside Dean Goffin’s setting of “Happy song”, which features some of the overseas sections singing a verse in their own language.
Also released in 1965 was “The Holy War”, featuring Ray Steadman-Allen’s opus (not on this release), together with his “Fantasia for Piano & Band: Christ is the answer” and Eric Ball’s setting of the “Magnificat” for female voices. It is good to have Ray’s own interpretation of the former to set alongside more recent versions, and although the performance of the latter (sung by the National Songsters) is not flawless, there is always something special about a premiere recording.
In 1966 came “An evening at the Royal Albert Hall”, represented here by the massed bands playing George Marshall’s selection “Great & Glorious”, an impressive rendition by Norwich Citadel Band of Eric Ball’s “Song of Courage”, and the premiere of Les Condon’s setting of “Song of Praise”. The last-named, with its confident assertion that “Christ has overcome the world” has been used countless times over the years, and it is interesting to note that it is generally taken somewhat faster nowadays than at that original performance.
The final performance in this first volume is one about which there has been some discussion already on tMP: Leslie Condon, then a member of the ISB’s bass section, apparently produced the music for “The Present Age” piecemeal, the band only receiving the complete version a week before the performance at the “Brass International” festival in 1968. Reviewing the release for the Salvation Army publication Salvationist, Dudley Bright questioned whether the version on the new cd is the same as that on the original lp, the festival having been given twice on the same day, a suspicion echoed on here by Brian Bowen, at that point the band’s flugel player. Now those of you who still have the original – and means to play it! – can listen to the two and make up your own minds.
The sleeve notes do not help us in this respect, being somewhat rudimentary, largely consisting of personal reminisces of some of the participants, when a little more detail on the works and the performances could have been more helpful. Whilst this release will no doubt bring back happy memories to many, it should not be seen as a mere exercise in nostalgia: these are vibrant performances, with the particular frisson that comes from a live recording, and still stand up well when comparison is made with more recent versions. Offered at what counts these days as mid-price, this and future releases should be of a wide interest.