From BBC Music Magazine (April, 2017)
The Celebrated Distin Family
Works by Meyerbeer, Berlioz, Fauconnier, Donizetti, Grétry, Verdi, Henry Distin, John Distin, Handel, Kent, Arne, Theodore Distin arr. Scott, Sax, Arban, Thomas, Fomison, Dale et al.
The Prince Regent's Band
Resonus RES10179 55:40 mins
'An ensemble so perfect has never been heard': thus spake the composer Heinrich Marschner in 1846 on hearing Britain's Distin family of brass players after their famous ensemble had been gingered up with saxhorns, valved instruments created in Paris by Adolphe Sax. It's tempting to repeat Marschner's effusion after listening to this recreation of Distin repertoire played by the historically-inclined Prince Regent's Band. Rounded, velvet tones; impeccably secure intonation; sweetly subtle dynamics: I felt I was taking a sumptuous bath in nothing but golden syrup.
Between them the five players wield 13 instruments: seven saxhorns, five cornets, one horn. The saxhorns get their most luscious workout in Berlioz's slow-moving Chante sacré, a showpiece for the Regent Band's exquisitely blended sound. The contrabass saxhorn comes into its own heftily burbling in the depths during Distin's Military Quadrilles, one of the more charmingly naive items interspersed between arrangements of certified classics. Three miniaturised selections from Verdi's Requiem are ingenious and fresh, particularly the Agnus Dei with its treble descant. Nimble fingerwork triumphs in Handel's Let the Bright Seraphim. But then everything here is nimble and bright, and well worth a listen even if Victorian musical trinkets aren't your usual cup of tea.
From Lark Reviews
The Celebrated Distin Family
The Prince Regent’s Band
RESONUS RES 10179
What a wonderful find! This is exactly what we need in the build up to Christmas. Much of the music is familiar – arrangements of Meyerbeer, Donizetti, Verdi and Arne – alongside works by Henry and Theodore Distin with lesser known pieces. The Distin Family blazed a trail across Europe and the USA thanks to an encounter with Adolphe Sax who introduced them to valved brass and the new saxhorn. I can’t recommend this too highly – it is a gem!
From Early Music Reviews:
The Celebrated Distin Family: Music for Saxhorn Ensemble
The Prince Regent’s Band
Resonus RES10179. 55’40
Unless you have been weaned on the sound of brass bands (which I wasn’t) the sounds and the instruments on this recording might appear rather unusual. It features no fewer than seven saxhorns, ranging from contralto to contrabass, along with five different cornets, and a ventil horn, all dating from around 1850-1900 (pictured below). The five players of the period brass ensemble, The Prince Regent’s Band, share these out amongst themselves as they explore the music of the extraordinary Distin family who, between 1835 and 1857, journeyed around Europe and North America performing and promoting new designs of brass instruments. They were instrumental, so to speak, in the development of new valved instruments, one being the saxhorn, designed by Adolphe Sax (who they met in Paris in 1844) but improved by the Distins, who gave the instrument its name.
In 1844, the Illustrated London News noted that “The Distins are at present the only performers on the Sax Horns, which unites the power of the French horn and those of the cornets-à-piston, but is infinitely superior to both, for it combines the mellowness and sweetness of the former, with all the brilliance and power of the latter. The pieces which the Distins perform are of their own arrangement, and do credit to their musical skill.” The father of the family was John Distin (1798-1863), a former trumpeter with the Grenadier Guards who, after Waterloo, joined the Household Band of King George IV (formerly the Prince Regent’s Band). He then became bandmaster to an aristocratic Scottish family. There he met, and eventually married, Ann Loder, born into a family of musicians and dancers. Ann’s five sons joined Distin to form ‘The Celebrated Distin Family’.
The present day Prince Regent’s Band have recreated the sort of music that the Distins played in their concerts, a compelling mixtures of styles and arrangements by the Distins and by members of the Prince Regent’s Band. The music ranges back from Verdi and Berlioz to Handel and Arne (with his Rule Brittannia), along with traditional melodies such as The Last Rose of Summer and pieces by the Distins themselves. Even though there had been 13 previous tracks for me to get used to the sound, I confess I was a little taken aback to hear Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim played with these instruments – an extraordinary sound!
The playing is superb, the five players producing an excellent consort sound. This is a fascinating little glimpse into a little-known part of musical history.
From Planet Hugill:
Re-discovering the saxhorn: The Celebrated Distin Family
The Prince Regent’s Band
RESONUS RES 10179
I hadn't heard of the Distin family until I received this latest CD from Resonus Classics. The Celebrated Distin Family (released 1/12/2016) performed by The Prince Regent's Band reconstructs the repertoire of a famous 19th century brass ensemble, playing the music on instruments of the day. This means that the performers, Richard Fomison, Richard Thomas, Anneke Scott, Phil Dale and Jeff Miller, perform music by Meyerbeer, Berlioz, Fauconnier, Donizetti, Gretry, Verdi, Henry Distin, John Distin, Handel, James Kent, Arne, and Theodore Distin, on a range of cornets and saxhorns. (See my recent interview with Anneke Scott where we talk about playing the saxhorn, and rediscovering the repertoire on the disc).
Between 1835 and 1857 the members of the Distin family, John Distin (1798-1863) and his sons George, Henry, William and Theodore performed as The Celebrated Distin Family. The family ensemble toured both the UK and abroad and it was in Paris that they met the celebrated inventor Adolphe Sax (1814-1894). As well as inventing the saxophone, Sax had come up with a whole family of brass instruments, saxhorns; designed for band use they were intended to provide a uniformity of approach and timbre across the range. Somehow (reports vary) the Distins acquired a set and their use of them, combined with an imaginative approach to the repertoire, helped to popularise the instruments.
Effectively, the Distin's helped to create the traditional British brass band repertoire, but rather ironically not much of the Distin's repertoire has survived in full score. So this disc uses a handful of works by members of the Distin family (which survive in short score), some of Adophe Sax's own arrangements for saxhorns and music of the day which is known to have been played by the family. Apart from the Sax arrangements, the music is all played in arrangements by members of The Prince Regent's Band.
The instruments used vary between the different arrangements. But it is necessary to beware that saxhorns have different names in French and English so that the soprano saxhorn in French is the English contralto! Some of the repertoire, particular the English pieces, called for cornets on the top line rather than saxhorns and at one point Anneke Scott plays a ventil horn which was actually made by Distin.
Part of the process for the performers involved the exploration of their instruments and what they could do, creating arrangements in dynamic process. The necessity of creating arrangements is something that would be familiar to players in a modern brass quintet, but is rather less usual for period instrument players (the members of the band play with many of the major period instrument groups). Anneke Scott described it as 'one of the most exciting and creative experiences I’ve been involved in'.
Modern brass groups owe a great deal to the Distin family, both for the creation of repertoire and the promotion of Sax's new instruments, and members of the saxhorn family (such as the tenor horn) are still used in brass bands. And what the disc gives us is a lovely glimpse into the early history of the brass band, and much of the repertoire on disc will be familiar (in style at least) to those who enjoy listening to brass band music.
But there is a difference, the very particular quality which the period instruments bring. The saxhorn has a very mellow sound and, intentionally, blends well with other brass instruments so that what we have here is a lovely rich mellow sound (many of the instruments will also be of narrow bore than their modern equivalents). Some of the pieces put a real smile on the face, notably those by members of the Distin family and by Adolph Sax, they are very much period pieces. And it is startling at first to come across Verdi's Requiem arranged for brass ensemble!
Overall this is a fascinating exploration of a genre and a group of instruments. Not everyone will want to listen regularly to this particular combination of pieces, but there is no denying the superb musicianship of the members of The Prince Regent's Band, nor the importance of the Distin family.
The Prince Regent's Band's website has a lovely selection of videos introducing the various instruments they play, the repertoire and the Distin family, well worth exploring. You can read more about the creation of this disc in my recent interview with Anneke Scott.
The Prince Regent's Band is playing at Kensington Palace as part of the Christmas celebrations there, performing Victorian carols and seasonal music, between 27 December and 2 January at regular slots during the day, see the Kensington Palace website for times and further details.