The Prince Regent’s Band
I fear that mention of ‘the celebrated Distin family’ in polite company nowadays would elicit nothing but blank looks, but in their heyday in the mid-19th century they were quite the thing, touring Europe and America to great acclaim. I warmed to them when I read that they began commenced their stellar career with a tour of the Moray coast ending in Inverness. Springing from the Prince Regent’s Band, George IV’s elite brass ensemble, John Distin astutely formed a family dynasty of brass players similar to a Victorian version of the Jacksons or the Osmonds, who – taking advantage of contemporary developments in brass instruments – took the world by storm.
A turning point for the group was their discovery and espousal of the newly invented Saxhorn, an instrument which featured prominently in their programmes as well as on the present CD. The new Prince Regent’s Band comprises five players with a wealth of period brass experience who populate the brass sections of a myriad period instrument ensembles. The repertoire they have recorded here is by necessity only speculatively associated with the Distins, and ranges from pretty basic oompah music to subtle compositions by John Distin, often in arrangements by the group members, and altogether more adventurous repertoire such as arrangements of Verdi, Handel and Arne. I have to admit that the occasionally slight failures in tuning particularly in the cornets disturbed me – is this really entirely the fault of the old instruments? In some pieces the melody cornet is sharp at the top end of its range and in tune lower down – is it naïve to think that a bit of judicious ‘pulling out’ or ‘lipping down’ might have helped? These slight flaws are more than offset by the delightfully warm sounds of a consort Saxhorns, and the tasteful playing of the ensemble avoids any potential ennuie. Helpfully the large collection of instruments the band members play is illustrated at the centre of a very informative essay by Anneke Scott, although the group photo with players clutching an ophicleide and a trombone slightly confuses the issue. Surely your first album is more than adequate excuse for a new group publicity snap?! Notwithstanding, the members of The Prince Regent’s Band are to be warmly congratulated on this enterprising exploration of an almost entirely forgotten area of musical history.
D. James Ross