Originally written in 1971 to a commission from the British Brass Band Federation and premiered that year by Ifor James (to whom the work is dedicated) and the Black Dyke Mills Band conducted by Geoffrey Brand, this new version for symphonic wind band was premiered in 2008 by Frank Lloyd and the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts Symphonic Wind Band in Denver USA. The composer is grateful to Roger Harvey for his invaluable assistance in the preparation of this score.
The concerto is in three movements, following the usual pattern of fast, slow, fast. The first movement is structured around a traditionally laid out sonata form; the first theme with its rising fourths is impetuous in character, whilst the second theme is more lyrical, the horn announcing a long ‘cantabile’ melody against a backdrop of slowly changing harmonies and undulating ostinati. A highly-charged development section leads to a climactic tutti before returning to the opening theme, contracted this time. When the second theme returns it is given to the soprano saxophone and horn to follow each other in canon. A brief coda ends the movement.
The second movement opens with woodwind chords built around rising and falling fifths, the solo horn entering almost immediately with a long, expressive melody, chromatically coloured. This is broken down and developed by the band and eventually leads to a cadenza-like section, with fanfare motifs tossed between muted brass and soloist and leading to a rather dissonant climax. Tranquillity returns however with pianissimo chords on woodwind, heralding the entry of the soloist, who anticipates the return of the main theme. When it does return, it is passed from oboe to clarinet, the soloist entwining it with gentle counterpoint. The movement ends with low sustained chords, coloured by tam-tam.
The finale takes its cue from the Mozartian horn concerto model, cast in rondo form
with a rather jaunty main theme. There are two episodes, the first with the soloist playing a theme built on long notes, rather atonal in character, and accompanied on winds by repetitive rhythms; whilst the second is a more clearly defined melody, tossed around between soloist and band, but with increasingly disruptive dancing figures permeating the texture, and built on the same fourths as the beginning of the concerto. Eventually the main theme returns, with soloist and band in high spirits, and bringing the concerto to a joyous and triumphant conclusion.
Edward Gregson 2008