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2004 Midlands Regional Championships

First Section - Retrospective
Saturday 6th March

Test Piece: Coventry Variations – Bramwell Tovey
Malcolm Brownbill

At the outset of this retrospective it is only correct to add, once more our condolences to the family, friends and fellow band members of Steve Freckleton from the Langley Band. An assessment of the competition itself though would show that this was a strongly contested section with a consistently high standard in performance all across. It must also be said that Malcolm Brownbill was the very epitome of what a good adjudicator is all about; an obviously concentrated knowledge of the chosen score, a fine overview of the performances at the end of the section and the certainty that there could be very few quibbles with his final results.

Paul Northey took the first of his two bands over the weekend with Unity Brass. From their number one draw they got off to a solid start and a strong lower band added impetus to a confident performance. There was nothing vague about their very direct interpretation and they laid down a good marker that set the standard that had to be followed. Some nice soprano work formed part of a colorful and atmospheric performance, but hats off to the basses in a 6th place that was well earned and deserved.

In conversation with Malcolm Brownbill, looking back at this First Section, he told us at 4BarsRest that he was quite taken with the quality of this initial performance and was then further uplifted by the following band Tintwistle.

David Shutter captured the kaleidoscopic changes of mood and colour exceptionally well in his interpretation in coaxing some lovely sounds from the Tintwistle Band. The euphonium, repiano, back row cornets and snare drum all played very precisely indeed, in fact, sprightly playing right through the band with good transitions helped this warm urgent reading of the score. An award of 5th place just outside the prizes came only as a result of some even more solid performances from other bands yet to come.

Ibstock Brick Brass, third on stage would have to take performance levels up another notch if they were to make an impact but one word could probably sum up the Ibstock performance under David Jones - ‘Nerves’. This was a shame because it led to an untidy 14th place. The band delivered some rhythmic and bright playing but these came in fits and starts so it was probably those repeated weak moments that so affected the performance that proved costly. Whenever called on the elaborate percussion playing however was quite stimulating.

The contest had opened well with a high standard of performance, and as Malcolm Brownbill commented from the stage with a very high standard of percussion playing and the Bedworth Brass performance was no exception - but on this occasion their efforts were eclipsed by the horn playing. The trio balance at the opening was a little trombone dominant but allowing a little leeway in dynamic shape David Williams MD encouraged some very rhythmic playing. At (IV) the horns were very good but the music lost a little cohesion in the soprano feature (VIII). The solo euphonium took control and the band recovered well before they drew the piece to a good close. Earlier troubles almost certainly cost and 13th overall was their reward.

There was a nice feel for the atmosphere and freedom for expression in the Bramwell Tovey score with the 5th band of the day Jackfield Elcock Reisen. The reading and playing by the band was well judged both in shape and balance, delivering music with nice definition - particularly from the tenor horn section. They drew the work to an exhilarating close and their 4th place well earned.

Cliff Parker tapped his forehead to reinforce a message for Langley to hold their concentration which the band duly noted. Their performance, the sixth in the draw, was well conceived and although the playing became a bit sticky (bar 204) and could perhaps could have been a little been warmer after (bars 210/2) these were minor blemishes and in no way detracted from their performance which beguiled the ear in lyrical passages, contained some classy soprano work and caught the attention with energy in the exiting variations. A remarkably well-balanced interpretation and 1st prize to take a place in Harrogate come September. It was well deserved.

Though they were a little unsettled at the start, the Enderby Band troms took up the challenge and were, on entry, really very good. The basses followed suit and the whole was underpinned with tidy rep & back row cornet playing. The performance did not escape “Scott free” and Variation VII saw some problems with balance and intonation issues surfacing at variation IX. Definition seemed to get muddled somewhat at variation IX, but the opening variations did work better than those later in the work, which was unfortunate as it meant a 9th place for Stephen Cooper and the band in a sometimes powerful and dramatic performance.

Half way through the contest and Gresley Old Hall must have been disappointed as they were unclean at the opening – just as the adjudicator’s pen has already hit paper. They did quickly turn the piece to strength with brisk sounds and lots of vigour. Good basses made their mark at (VI) and this saw steady playing with nice expression and they achieved some nice mutes sounds. The MD David Hutchinson did not press the variations too hard and they produced brass both with fine bite and sonority ably demonstrating that 11th could have been a lot better.

Into the second half of the draw and Wigston gave a solid account. Good percussion made for very rhythmic flowing music but some untogtherness [VII] really stood out. [P] improved as the ensemble again shone but it was at a big dynamic and they certainly delivered the loudest tam tam sound of the day. It could perhaps have touched a fraction higher in the frame but at 15th they coped well with the challenging writing.

Riddings got a good result here last year and repeated this. Some nice flugel playing opened in the trio and good basses in all the sections hallmarked a test piece played most confidently. Plenty of rhythm and urgency capped with notably lovely flugel work saw [VII}and {IX} exude lots of quality. This was a performance worthy of its 2nd placing in which the evident relish for the piece by John Davis allowed the band to play with gusto.

12th in the final order placings and 11th on stage were Nottingham City Transport. A mixed bag of a performance really as the ‘con forza’ was well noted and [J/K] were very well described. Blemishes in the solo lines undid the very good ensemble work which in no way lacked inner detail. The euphonium themeatic line was neatly described [S] but then the line was overshadowed in chorale.

The same could be said of the Shirley Band and probably why they came so close to Nottingham. This section was still richly enjoyable and it was little shortcomings rather than major setbacks in playing that separated the bands in this section. Good horn work and nice dynamic contrast weaved their way through some striking lyrical ideas. The whole was just troubled when things became a little ragged [VI] and intonation problems became noticeable. A strident chorale resulted in a performance again of mixed fortunes.

Three bands to go to complete the section and Foss Dyke, who finished 8th gave perhaps one of the most effective opening trio’s of the whole section being absolutely ‘andante maestoso’. The first number of staves were all good but troubles set in from [J/K] which caused problems. [VII] was unsettled and the band continued to work hard without really pulling off their best from then on. It was interesting that the flugel & troms stood to carry the themeatic line at the chorale as the problems in projecting this musical idea through the busy band work was discussed by the adjudicator at the conclusion of the section. MD Walter Ritchie and Malcolm Brownbill in accord with each other in that one then!

With a performance of consummate and commanding artistry Adele Sellers artistic insight brought to the piece an imagination and emotional intensity. Towcester Studio opened with a good trio then went on to play with lots of detail in a characterful performance. Noticeably good percussion with quality sounds especially the tambourine heralded a good section at [V]. The flugel produced some top playing but if one looked for criticism the troms may then have just overcooked things. {VIII] had good attack and the panache with which the MD so well crafted this performance deserved its 3rd place. A pity only two bands qualify for Harrogate as we are sure Towcester Studio too would have represented the Midlands really well there.

Last of the fifteen bands entered in the contest were Blackley who gained a mid placed 7th and a performance with lots of attack. They were rather straight in style perhaps at times, and [V} was really nicely crafted but [VII] was less assured in the solo line. From [219] onward the music built really well and [IX] was particularly good. What a shame about the troubled central sections and we felt that they may have been costly.

Although two bands stood out for us in our predictions, Riddings and Gresley Old Hall, we felt that behind them were the likes of Jackfield Elcock Reisen, Towcester, Shirley, Unity Brass and Langley. It was, as we thought, one heck of a fight and our dark horses Langley really played exceptionally well. Riddings, Jackfield Elcock Reisen, Unity Brass and Towcester Studio all played up to form but Greasley Old Hall and Shirley didn’t quite make it a clean sweep for our resident tipster.

John James

© 4BarsRest

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