An ensemble of the finest musicians offering class, quality and versatility


Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks

Album by The Symphonic Brass of London

Album cover for Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks

This vibrant recording celebrates the 100th anniversary of the death of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and demonstrates the influence of the ragtime music of his contemporary Scott Joplin (1868-1917) on Debussy’s own music and that of Eric Satie and ‘Les Six’ in France. All of the arrangements, for ten brass and two percussion, are new and original, making this a world premiere recording.

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Reviews

’Superb - best thing I’ve heard in a longer than long time. These players are, as someone sometime said, ‘out of sight’ -  the standard remarkable: technically and musically several moves beyond reasonable expectations.

Their own obvious talents apart, they owe much to yourself [Eric] - the orchestrations and conducting skills are at the highest levels.

Daring too. I would never have tried (risked) especially Debussy, but you solved the various problems/difficulties with seeming ease - no casualties. Much pleasure, not simply for brass enthusiasts I’m sure.

I hope the CD has a great and well-deserved current and lasting life. The disc should have a great welcome both in the UK and US (Japan?) if it is promoted well.

I hope my enthusiasm for what I will continue to value as an outstanding recording is evident!

Congratulations - do some more.’

Elgar Howarth - Conductor, composer, arranger, trumpeter. Long time member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble

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‘It is sheer delight to hear this splendid collection of varied pieces so exquisitely performed. Congratulations to The Symphonic Brass of London!’

Ursula Jones - Former manager of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble

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Directed by the internationally-renowned trombonist, Eric Crees, The Symphonic Brass of London is a hand-picked group of Britain’s finest brass and percussion players. The ensemble’s critically-acclaimed debut album, ‘A Bridge over the Pyrenees’, was released in 2014 and focused on the influence of Spanish music on French composers. ‘Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks’, the ensemble’s eagerly-awaited second album is, once again, adventurous in its exploration of repertoire, this time focusing on the enormous impact of ragtime music on French composers.

From the first of its 21 tracks, the listener can be in no doubt about the quality of the featured ensemble. Under the guidance of Eric Crees, The Symphonic Brass of London makes it sound so easy, with every player exuding class and style, from the elegant piccolo leads, down to the rock-solid bass lines.

Similarly, the skillful arrangements create an immediate impact, the instrumentation of ten brass and two percussion enabling the arranger, Eric Crees, to give the music proper reverence, detail and colour whilst respecting the original voicings of the composers. For some, the idea of presenting piano works in a burnished brass and percussion colouring, may not seem appealing, but when approached with such adept skill, the result is striking.

Featuring the music of Debussy, Joplin, Auric, Milhaud and Satie, the programme is well- structured and varied. The ragtime influence is easy to hear, particularly when listening to Joplin’s Swipesy and Debussy’s Golliwogg’s Cakewalk back-to-back. The technical execution is exceptional throughout, although it is some of the more reflective moments, including a sublime performance of Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin, that leave a lasting impression.

The presentation of this MPR release is much like the playing and the arrangements – first-class. A full colour 20-page booklet provides informative background to the music and the performers, together with historical images including original score covers. The sound produced is also to be admired; great balance and clarity at all dynamics, placing the listener in the front row to enjoy the music-making. The new arrangements, the uncovering of neglected gems and the general body of research involved in this project makes it an impressive release, but even if ‘Rags and Cakewalks’ are not for you, I highly recommend this CD for the brass playing alone; an object lesson in performing with musicality and style.

David Childs - Editor, Brass Band World. Programme **** Performance ***** Recording ***** Presentation *****

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‘WOW!!!!!  Fantastic in every way. Your writing is superb, as usual - very inventive. The playing is wonderful and although I usually don’t read through the notes, even your prose is great (a lot of stuff I never knew). I especially like the information about ’stomp’. The ‘feet’ determines the tempo, (often sadly overlooked by today’s youth - attempting to impress rather than serving the music).’

Professor Jiggs Whigham - International Jazz Trombone Soloist, Director Bundesjazzorchester, Former Professor Hochschule für Musik Berlin, Former Director RIAS Big Band , BBC Big Band

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‘I have been quite ill lately and just the first track lifted me out of my doldrums. Always enjoyed Swipesy, but your version is especially…well, Swipesy! I really enjoyed your CD. Great sounds coming out of the UK. I found it delightful.’

Larry Melton - Curator & Founder of the Sedalia Ragtime Archive, Founder and Adviser to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival Board

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’Your CD is wonderful! What a good choice of repertoire! To mix Joplin and the French composers is a very good idea and very logical!

Your arrangements are terrific! Very good taste and perfect balance! Very good musicians, very good to see Paul Archibald and this new crew!

The sound is very ‘English’; you have in your country a specific sound and a way of playing in Brass Ensembles, probably the best in the world - I have loved it for a long time, even if it’s a little different from the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, more symphonic and more ‘muscled’.

Bravo and I would love to hear you live!’

Thierry Caens - Trumpet Soloist, Cultural Ambassador for the Town of Dijon, France, Professor Lyon and Dijon Conservatories

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As someone who has spent the vast bulk of his professional career steeped in London’s professional music scene, Eric Crees has a contacts book that is second to none. It comes in very useful indeed for the celebrated trombone player, director and arranger when he calls upon The Symphonic Brass of London, an ensemble comprising leading orchestral brass and percussion players including names familiar to brass band audiences such as James Fountain, who shares piccolo trumpet duties, and trombonist Chris Houlding.

In its latest release, the star-studded group turns to arrangements made especially for the world-premiere recording, by Eric, of music by Scott Joplin and his apparent influence on the likes of Debussy, Eric Satie and members of Les Six in France. Eric Crees has gone to painstaking lengths to retain a degree of authenticity in his music, paying close attention to tempi and harmonies found in the original arrangements. Swipesy, by Joplin and his pupil Arthur Marshall, sets the tone for this engaging release, encapsulating the cheeky charm and humour associated with ragtime. As one might expect, the playing is of a terrific calibre throughout, the ensemble finding a wonderful homogeneity and blend, no doubt underpinned by the quality and consistency of personnel, which endures across its appearances and recording work.

Joplin’s The Strenuous Life, Searchlight Rag and Weeping Willow are treated with a remarkable sense of poise, no doubt alluding to comments from the composer, highlighted by Crees in the sleeve notes, warning: “never play ragtime fast at any time”. It elicits a gentle swagger which often goes untapped in this genre.

La Puerta del Vino provides a refreshing change of pace, taking the listener into an altogether more violent sound world – not least thanks to the bass trombone interjections of Christian Jones. There’s a luxurious warmth, meanwhile, to Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin. Percussion is used sensibly, adding a variety of colour without becoming overbearing. Works by ragtime ‘guru’ Joplin permeate the release and his apparent influence never seems far away, even during the music of composers like Debussy, Milhaud and Satie; Debussy’s Minstrels and Le Piccadilly, by Satie, for example, feel at home.

In an album of this type, there’s a danger the repertoire could become one-dimensional and samey. The harmonic languages of the French composers bring the necessary variety.

The recording, which was made in London’s Henry Wood Hall, authentically captures the individual and collective sounds produced by these eminent musicians. Accompanied by detailed, informative sleeve notes, it makes for an engaging chamber brass recording which would be a worthy addition to any listener’s library, arranged and performed by musicians of the highest calibre.

Mark Good - Editor, The British Bandsman. Programme **** Performance ***** Recording ***** Presentation *****

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Track listing

  1. Swipesy – Joplin arr. Crees
  2. Golliwoggs Cakewalk – Debussy arr. Crees
  3. The Strenuous Life – Joplin arr. Crees
  4. Rag-Time Parade – Satie arr. Crees
  5. Solace – Joplin arr. Crees
  6. La Puerta del Vino – Debussy arr.Crees
  7. Rag-Caprice No 1 – Milhaud arr. Crees
  8. Minstrels – Debussy arr. Crees
  9. La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin – Debussy arr. Crees
  10. Adieu New York! – Auric arr. Crees
  11. Searchlight Rag – Joplin arr. Crees
  12. Des pas sur la neige – Debussy arr. Crees
  13. La Diva de L’Empire – Satie arr. Crees
  14. Le Petit Negre – Debussy arr. Crees
  15. Weeping Willow – Joplin arr. Crees
  16. Hommage a S. Pickwick Esq – Debussy arr. Crees
  17. Rose Leaf Rag – Joplin arr. Crees
  18. Le Piccadilly – Satie arr.Crees
  19. Bethena – Joplin arr. Crees
  20. General Lavine – Debussy arr. Crees
  21. Stoptime Rag – Joplin arr. Crees

Conductor – Eric Crees

Recording label – MPR

Producer – Mike Purton

Recording engineer – Anthony Falkner