European Brass Band Championships 2007 DVD10-Oct-2007
European Youth Brass Band, Cory Band, Brass Band Willebroek, Brass Band Frener-Reifer Pfeffersberg, Brass Band Oberosterreich, Brass Band Treize Etoiles, Stavanger Brass Band, Royal Marines Corps of Drums
Soloists: Raf Van Looveren (cornet) & Paul Walton
For many years, audio recordings have been made available of some of the major events in the Brass band calendar, enabling those who were there to relive their memories, and to see how the actual performances compared with the stored memories of the day, and allowing those who were unable to attend to share in the experience (and to see what the fuss was about when controversial results had ensued!)
With the advent of video and DVD recordings, an additional element has been added, giving the viewer the opportunity to see the players’ and conductors’ expressions, be they of satisfaction, disappointment or exasperation.
The two-disc recording of the 2007 European Championships, held in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, includes contest performances from both the main championship and the B section, together with extracts from the Saturday night Gala Concert. There is nothing unfortunately from either the solo competition or the Farewell Concert on Sunday morning in which Brass Band Oberosterreich made such an impression, but as these events took place in the much smaller Adrian Boult Hall, it may have been felt that it was not practical to site cameras there.
As to the choice of which contest performances to include, an enlightened approach has been taken, whereby the selection is not just limited to the bands which were highly placed on the day, but includes two readings which were very well received in the hall, but which did not find the same favour with the men in the box.
One of the successes of the event, both in terms of the choice of repertoire and also because of the high standard of their playing, was the European Youth Brass Band, directed by Ian Porthouse, and their performance of “Malaguena”, taken from the Gala Concert, opens the first disc. The playing is well controlled, as much in the quiet sections as in the louder passages, the band looking very smart in red tee-shirts and black trousers (plus one solitary kilt!), and rising to their feet towards the end of the piece.
Their enthusiasm is clear for anyone to see, and there are no indications that it was the second time they had played it in a few hours, as it had also formed part of their foyer concert in the interval following the contest.
The test piece composed for the event was “Elgar Variations”, by Martin Ellerby, and the version included is that by the Cory Band under Robert Childs, winners of the Set Test. It is a fine reading, and the excellent camera work allows one to appreciate some of the finer points, such as the trombone section’s glissandi and the interaction between the various soloists. If there is a criticism in that respect, one could have done with a few more shots of the percussion section in action.
The concentration around the band is clear to see, with attention to detail, especially regarding the dynamics, and a particularly musical rendition of the euphonium solo by David Childs.
Brass Band Willebroeck took part in the Gala Concert, unaware that they had been adjudged the overall winners of the contest. If not at their most sparkling, one of the undoubted highlights was Principal Cornet Raf van Looveren’s rendition of “Variations on a Tyrolean Song” by Jean Baptiste Arban.
Having admired the fluid solo line and the sympathetic accompaniment, the viewer can share the audience’s surprise when he breaks into a passage of yodelling, echoing the cornet variation. Even the most intricate of passages are played with such dexterity and confidence, as he shows himself to be a real master of the art.
The three bands in the B section each played an Own Choice programme which included “The Drop”, composed by Simon Dobson, winner of the European Brass Band Composers’ Competition in 2002. The composer has drawn his inspiration from various styles of music, but has been particularly influenced by drum and bass techniques, as well as the work of DJ friends.
BB Frener-Reifer Pfeffersberg from Italy, playing with four French horns, produce a committed and confident reading of this short piece, although the sound effects of a wind-up gramophone at the start and in the middle are not as effective on the recording as they seemed in the hall at the time.
Two bands presented specially-commissioned works in the Own Choice section of the contest. BB Oberosterreich’s “Titan’s Progress”, written by Austrian composer Hermann Pallhuber under the pseudonym John P Alliston, drew heavily on the music of Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No 1 (The Titan)”, particularly in the fanfares which punctuated the work. With a full sound, and giving the impression that there was much more power held in reserve, it is a well-integrated performance.
Some of the expressions on conductor Hannes Buchegger’s face are most striking, and there is some effective solo playing, particularly from Hans Gansch on cornet and Harald Buchner on euphonium, both of whom stood away from the band to play, and also the band’s founder, flugel player Thomas Beiganz. The band felt they had played better in the Own Choice than in the Set Work, but the adjudicators saw it differently, placing them 9th and 4th respectively, securing fifth place overall.
Major Peter Parkes has had considerable success in the European contest, winning eight times with Fairey and Black Dyke, but on this occasion he was called upon to direct the European Youth Brass Band in the “Elegy” from John Ireland’s “Downland Suite”. The combination of youthful enthusiasm and years of experience produced some fine, sustained playing, with excellent solo work. It is just unfortunate that the opening bars overlap with the end of Frank Renton’s introduction, which may irritate some listeners more than others.
Disc Number One ends with Willebroek’s winning performance from the Own Choice section: Philip Sparke’s “Music of the Spheres”, commissioned by the YBS band for the European Championships in Glasgow, was chosen by four bands, making for some interesting comparisons.
Willebroek, playing with two flugels and their customary 3 BBb basses, produced an energetic reading, bringing out details that were not heard in the other performances. The camera work here is particularly good, picking up each soloist in turn, not to mention a shot of the youngest player in the contest, 12-year-old Lode Violet on cornet.
The second disc is dominated by music from the Gala Concert, commencing with Willebroek’s opener, “Horizons” by Paul Lovatt-Cooper, fast making a name for himself as a writer of bright, accessible music, popular with players and listeners alike. For “Horizons”, the cornets are divided either side of the band, with the trombones standing at the rear, and individual soloists move to the front of the band for their solos, notably cornet and he euphoniums.
Possibly the most controversy of the whole event surrounded “Beyond the Horizon”, played by Brass Band Treize Etoiles and written by Bertrand Moren, their Principal Trombone and also the son of their conductor, Geo-Pierre Moren, masquerading as Paul H Kelly.
An undoubted tour de force, and a real test for the whole band, it did not make much impression on the adjudicators, despite thunderous applause in the hall at the end of the performance, not to mention amazement at some of the technical feats demanded of the players.
Interestingly, on repeated listening one seems more aware of the gentler sections, with some well-controlled playing, whilst there is some striking writing for the trombone section and the basses, in addition to the challenging individual solos.
The second contribution from Peter Parkes and the European Youth Brass Band is a dash through Shostakovich’s “Folk Festival”, as arranged by Howard Snell. Howard has been most adept at selecting lesser-known gems to be transcribed for band, with Shostakovich seeming to suit the medium well. The youth players certainly seem to enjoy the music, with some fine xylophone playing adding extra colour to the brass.
Due to the judging system in use at the Europeans, bands compete in the Own Choice section unaware of how they had been rated in the Set Work. Stavanger, who some had felt were a little brash in the Ellerby on Friday, were lying in 3rd place when they took the stage to play Philip Wilby’s “Vienna Nights”. They produce a reading which brings out all the subtleties of Wilby’s writing, with confident playing, especially from the horns, led on this occasion by Sheona White.
Generally, the camera work is good, but they do manage to miss the EEb bass solo entirely, the camera being mainly directed at the 2nd euphonium, which plays an accompanying role. What the camera does pick up very clearly, however, in vision if not in sound, is Allan Withington apparently singing along with the band. The final “Turkish Rondo” really pushes the music forward, bringing to an end what Frank Renton rightly describes as “a scintillating performance”.
The music of Wagner has long been adopted by brass bands, from the epic arrangements of Alexander Owen through to more recent selections. In the hands of a good arranger it can make for an impressive finale to a concert, although it can also be quite demanding in terms of stamina.
Howard Snell’s transcription of the “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” from “Das Rheingold” was an ambitious choice as the closing item of the European Youth Brass Band’s programme but in the event, the young players coped extremely well, maintaining the intensity throughout, with little sign of running out of steam.
The organisers of the Gala Concerts have frequently endeavoured to include something specific to the host nation, and one may recall the bagpipes being featured in Glasgow. For 2007, the national element was provided by the Royal Marines fanfare trumpeters and drummers, together with David Morris, the champion whistler.
The latter’s appearance caused much division in the ranks, with some feeling it lowered the tone of the event, and others, including many of the public who had just come along for the concert in the evening, regarding it as an amusing and pleasant interlude.
In this instance, viewers of the DVD are denied the opportunity to judge for themselves, but no-one can doubt the artistry of the drummers of the Royal Marines. Performing in quite a limited space, the three male and two female drummers demonstrate great control and precision, both in the playing itself and in the choreographed routine, also incorporating bugles at one point, and with some effective ripple effects running up and down the line.
Symphony Hall has a fine organ, and this was put to good use as Willebroek performed Philip Wilby’s arrangement of the “Finale to the Organ Symphony”, by Camille Saint-Saens, with Paul Walton doing the honours at the console. Although there are occasions when the band swamps the organ somewhat, there is a refreshing absence of the clashes of intonation that often mar such combined items.
Paul can be seen watching Frans Violet on the monitor, and the images of the performance are mixed with scenes of the players celebrating their victory. With some particularly rich sounds from the bottom half of the band, it is a suitably majestic finale to Willebroek’s programme.
After a reference to Markus Bach stepping down as President of the European Brass Band Association, and mention of the 2008 competition, to be held in Norway, a fitting coda is provided in the form of the “Irish Blessing”, with some delicate playing by the soloists of the European Youth Brass Band.
The opening quartet of Wendy van Veen (flugel), Vicky Reynolds (horn), Mads Nielson (baritone) and Jan Muller (euphonium) show considerable maturity as they play the opening quartet without a conductor, Ian Porthouse only stepping in when the full band enters. It is a finely balanced rendition, although some may feel it is a mistake to have the credits superimposed over their performance.
This is an attractively-packaged release, with informative notes by British Bandsman editor Kenneth Crookson, and links from Frank Renton in his own inimitable style, and it contains much to interest both those who were in Birmingham and those who were unable to make it.
The producers have sensibly avoided too much gimmickry, with just the occasional fade between shots and no distracting fragmenting of the image. The visual images are very clear, and there seem to be none of the synchronisation problems which afflicted some copies of the Brass in Concert 2006 DVD.
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Bachelor of Music - The Ohio State University
Composer and Arranger