The Band of The RAF College


There have been so many developments in the writing of music for wind band that it is good to be reminded of just how good the traditional wind band idiom is.  This welcome disc does just that. It is dedicated to the work of the three O’Donnell brothers:   PSG O’Donnell (1882-1945), RP O’Donnell (1885 – 1961) and Bertram Walton O’Donnell (1887-1939). Between them they acted as bandmasters with a huge variety of bands in the Army, the Royal Marines and in the RAF. All three composed and conducted.

Prompted by Alison O’Donnell, a well-known Irish folk singer and the granddaughter of Percy, Mike Purton has recorded hitherto unknown and unpublished items by both BW and Rudolph. All demonstrate the high standard of band technique at the beginning of the twentieth century in both original works and in arrangements.

The majority of the works are by BW O’Donnell and very fine they are. A Lyric Poem (When the Sun is Setting) was written in 1913 but has a timeless quality to it. The lyrical opening on clarinet in an adventurous 5/8 gives way to a suave central section featuring solo cornet. The balance is magnificent and all the soloists shine. 

The Three Humoresques from 10 years later are extremely accomplished both musically and technically. They sound a little like Holst, BW would later advise Holst during the composition of his masterpiece Hammersmith. The movements all have titles which seem to have been taken from Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice opens as a dynamic march but settles down into a lyrical section for cornet. The finale Petulance and Persuasion is a lively jig, featuring deft interplay between the brass, wind, and percussion. 

The most substantial work is Rudolph’s previously unrecorded Fantasie Overture from 1908. This was an ambitious British work for the time as there were few models to go on. While very Victorian in idiom the writing puts all the instruments through their paces. It is beautifully constructed and reaches a natural and satisfying conclusion. Percy is only represented by his arrangement of Noack’s Parade of the Elves. It is a fun end to a valuable and enjoyable CD

The Band of the RAF College under the three conductors play magnificently, in the spacious Chapel RAF Cranwell. Tony Faulkner as recording engineer captures their sound as only he can.

Review by Paul RW Jackson