Sheffield University Wind Orchestra (SUWO)
Richard Stanbrook Recording Project

image of Richard StanbrookMappin Hall 4/5 May 2014

Thirty three members of SUWO dedicated their early May Bank Holiday to be part of this ambitious project.

Richard Stanbrook, a composer living in the Scottish borders and one time horn player and music arranger for the Royal Military Academy Band Corps, Sandhurst, commissioned the Wind Orchestra to record three of his original works for band. The chance of experiencing the intense and unique process of professional level rehearse/record session work, the opportunity to have our playing immortalised on CD and the carrot of a small boost to the SUWO funds was too tempting to refuse.

So, after much organisational and music preparation work behind the scenes in the months before, on Sunday 4 May at 10am in Mappin Hall, session 1 started and Elegy For Wind 2012, took shape and very soon was ready for the first ‘take’. Elegy, the shortest of the three works, is for small forces with lean and transparent scoring, a slow and expressive work requiring soloistic and sensitive playing from individuals, backed by beautifully blended sounds and chording throughout. Pleasingly, this was achieved under the ‘red light’ with an hour to spare of the allotted time – a great start to the venture – which allowed some extra time to play through and become acquainted with the more technically demanding A Dawlish Overture for Wind (1985 revised 2011), in advance of its session 2 slot. The second session from 1pm saw the arrival of some instrumental reinforcements – this piece uses flutes/piccolo and percussion not required for Elegy, plus enlarged saxophone, horn and tuba sections – and although we were still ‘one to a part’ the chamber ensemble feel of Elegy became transmuted into a more traditional band balance. The challenges of this dramatic and sprightly overture with its sting in the tail, took longer to master and we felt the pressure of time running out, and though successfully in the end we needed every moment of the allocated ninety minutes. The third session of the day was dedicated entirely to exploring and rehearsing, with the red light and recording machine switched off, Dartmoor Rhapsody No.3 written in 1980 with its revised opening of 2011. Much the biggest piece of the three in all senses – length, forces and emotional weight – with the addition of three trumpets alongside the three cornets, timpani and expanded percussion, we now became a full-blown symphonic band.

Monday and Day Two began with a long two and a half hour morning session that was a little slow to get into gear but gradually a momentum was achieved, challenges were overcome and sections recorded, until finally by lunchtime we had half the work ‘in the can’. We were determined to complete the job without having to return for a third session on this final day – tiredness was beginning to kick in, energy flagging and brains becoming frazzled and fogged! So with renewed purpose and focus after our short lunch break and much needed fresh air, we set to work at 1.00 and by 2.40 (only ten minutes over the scheduled session time) we had played the final take – and one of the best – with beautiful playing in particular from Sam, making the most of his wistful and poignant ‘last word’ solo on the trombone.

image of SUWO Robin GloorA couple of short but heartfelt thank-you speeches concluded matters and all was tidied, instruments, stands and chairs packed away in no time and all were away with doors closed by 3.15. Richard was delighted with the results and very complimentary of the enthusiasm and hard work of the players and we are all looking forward to hearing the results in a month or twos time when our precious takes have all been welded together, mastered and the finished CD produced. The Composer was so taken with our playing and appreciation of his music that he has agreed to write us a new work and we hope that we will have that to première next year.

All in all a most successful project which has given the student performers a great experience, enhanced their musical confidence and will give them a lasting record of their SUWO life.

(Anthony Houghton)