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2003 Welsh Regional Qualifying Championships

First Section - Retrospective

Adjudicator: David Read

Test Piece: Passacaglia on a Theme of Brahms - Arthur Butterworth

Just like every other region in the UK the bands in Wales found Arthur Butterworth’s “Passagaclia” an exceptionally difficult test - and just like every other region the music won out and the bands, even the winners came away second best once more.

The reasons why the music seems to have been such a severe test for the bands at this level are many and varied, but most apparent is that it is music that bands have forgotten how to play.

David Read made the remark when we spoke to him that he felt that many of the MD’s hadn’t acted upon the detailed foreword in the score from Butterworth himself, and that ensured that they approached the work in a manner that was at odds with its musical inspiration. Brahms is sober, refined music, broad and expansive – much like the man himself. It is not in anyway shape or form like Wagner – although once more too many of the conductors seemed to have got the two mixed up. Stridency is not a feature of the music of the former, or for that matter much of the latter but having cornets whack it out like state trumpeters of the Imperial German Court isn’t what is called for.

David Read is a great fan of Butterworth’s music and especially this work and he has an intimate understanding of its construction and musical architecture. He was therefore a little disappointed that the bands too often went for an aggressive approach to the music in an attempt to blow it into submission when a more intelligent approach was to give everything a much more sombre refined application.

He felt that more of this type of music played more often would lead bands to appreciate what they can actually do best – produce sonorous textures, balanced sounds and rich detailed ensemble sounds – just what was needed on this occasion. Some did it, plenty didn’t, but overall it showed that it is a way of playing that is unfortunately fast becoming extinct.

Treherbert and District under Graham Sheppard were one band that did make the most of the music, and even though there was a fair liberal sprinkling of cracks and splits the overall shape and style was just what was required. Graham is an old head who was brought up under the tutelage at Cory of the great Arthur Kenney so the “old” way of playing is well ingrained in the marrow and on this occasion it showed to good effect. They were worthy winners.

Second place went to Abergavenny who qualified for the finals for the second year in a row and will go again with high hopes of doing very well. They produced a fine overall sound and had some quality solo players whilst the direction from Lyndon Price was first rate. Not without its errors, it ended the contest off the number 9 spot in conclusive fashion.

Third place went to a band on the up – and one 4BR ignored in our pre match preview to our peril. Tylorstown nearly made it to the Finals with some neat and well-detailed ensemble work but overall they just had too many little blips and blobs that counted against them. They had a strong cornet end, which at times spoilt the balance, but it was a worthy performance and on another day may have just pinched a qualifying spot.

After the top three though and the standard dropped away. Rogerstone made the best of it but had balance and tuning problems that at times grated, whilst Ammanford had the right style and flow but had too many mistakes from start to finish and that sunk them to 5th spot off the number 1 draw.

Wrexham suffered the same fate although the style was too aggressive and at times it hurt the ears, whilst Markham were penalised we think for much the same thing. A strong cornet end and soprano meant that the balance went AWOL too many times and we think Mr Read may have penalised them quite severely. The bands that finished from 4th to 7th could have come in any order really, there wasn’t much to choose between them in terms of the number of mistakes they made, but the one thing they had in common was that they all approached the music with an aggression that wasn’t called for in the score or by the composer.

Both Pontardulais and Rhyl didn’t have the best of days, although Pontardulais had a fine middle of the band sound especially on the horns and Rhyl battled bravely against the odds somewhat. Both couldn’t complain about their final positions in the placing table though.

Overall then it was a slightly below par section in terms of standard, although all the bands here can perform better. The test piece though was the clear winner – a fine work, perhaps too difficult for the bands nationwide in the First Section and certainly one that took its fair share of casualties here. Both Treherbert and Abergavenny will travel to Dundee as strong contenders, but both will hoe they won’t have to perform such a stern test as this when they get there.

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