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2004 London and the Southern Counties Regional Championships - Retrospective

Second Section:
20th March - Commences: 10.00am

Test Piece: Kaleidoscope – Philip Sparke
Adjudicator: Dennis Wilby

Thirteen bands took part in the Second Section contest at Stevenage, playing in the sports hall conveniently (!) renamed "Main Concert Hall" for the occasion.

Cantium brass and Castleton Brass had withdrawn from the contest so the original field was down by two for the adjudicator Dennis Wilby, and he prefaced his remarks
by words of praise for the choice of test pieces, saying that they, and in particular "Kaleidoscope", were enjoyable to play, rehearse and listen to.

"Kaleidoscope" was always musical, had tunes and was demanding for the bands - in fact he felt it had presented too many problems for most of the bands in this section, highlighting in particular the need for bands to play
together. Music must be made of the notes, and he pointed to the need for the soloists in particular to play with style, keeping the pulse going even at a slow tempo. He felt bands had observed the dynamics well, but that the quality of sound had suffered in the quieter sections. Only two bands, in his opinion, had stood out from the rest, producing performances that were both musically and structurally sound.

So what did we think? East London Brass were first on stage, making a reasonable start with a good clear sound from the trombones. There was however a lack of clarity in the fast sections, with the dotted notes sounding very clipped. The euphoniums duet came across well, but nervousness seemed to affect both horn and cornet solos, and intonation was suspect in the muted cornet section. 8th place seemed about right.

Brighton Silver seated their cornets antiphonally, presumably to aid the clarity and to allow the back row melodies to come through, but it seemed rather to mask the sound of the euphoniums and baritones, who struggled to be heard at times. Again there were intonation problems, untidy dotted rhythms and hesitant soloists. The sound when the whole band was playing
was warm, but faded away when the music was more exposed - 13th and last place.

BAE Systems Brass were next, and despite some clear playing from the back row, and the cornets in general, there seemed to be some hesitancy from the
trombones and the solos did not quite come off. The percussion played with confidence and the waltz section flowed well. Minor slips marred the slow section before things rallied towards the end. 11th seemed rather harsh.

Crystal Palace set up with their basses on the audience's right, behind the trombones and euphoniums, with the solo cornets, horns and flugel forming one semicircle. They produced a good, full sound at the opening, although the flugel was a little quiet. The rhythm in Var 1 was good, despite some splits on the reprise, and the soloists entered confidently. The underneath parts could be heard clearly and the moto perpetuo section was very clean, with excellent work by the trombones. A good performance and well worth their 4th place.

Yiewsley & West Drayton made particularly good attempts at the dynamics, with a good pianissimo and delicate placing of the notes. They also had one of the most flamboyant conductors of the day who seemed to communicate well with his players. Again the horn and cornet were a little hesitant, but the euphonium solo was nicely restrained. The band blended well, including the
soprano cornet. A little clipped in the moto perpetuo, and they could have done with more of a build-up towards the end, but a well-deserved 3rd place.

St Albans City produced a good firm sound, played nicely together and balanced up well. The absence of a horn was noticeable at times, and there seemed to be a little uncertainty between the basses and the timps at the
start of the moto perpetuo. The tutti sections on the whole were more effective than the chamber music textures, but still worthy runners up.

Betteshanger got off to a fine start, with the back row cornets particularly good, despite having to compete with the sound of a cymbal from off-stage. The soloists were not so secure, however, and if a sop slips up there is
nowhere to hide! The horns produced a fine sound, but the start to the moto perpetuo was rather shaky. They picked up well towards the end and were possibly a little unlucky to be placed 6th rather than 5th.

Becontree Brass controlled the opening well, producing a big sound when called for. Var 1 seemed to be the fastest yet, but good separation of the notes - maybe a little frantic but definitely exciting. The horn entry was the clearest of the day, with the other soloists following suit. The waltz was comfortable and flowed smoothly, with delicate contributions from euphonium cornet and horn. Coming into the last variation much was made of the dynamic contrast and at the reprise of the tune there was a real sense of "coming home", with all of the elements falling into place, and the descending scales through to the bottom of the band being well-managed.
Well-deserved winners on the day.

Ware Brass suffered from poor intonation at the start and the tuning of the timpani did not seem quite right. There were some good sounds, particularly from the horns, but the band was not always together. The middle section of the piece seemed to work best, with some very clean tonguing and a smooth transition into the final variation. In the last section the decellerando was rather untidy and the ending seemed rather uninvolving. Dennis Wilby placed them 5th, which seemed a little generous.

Capital Concert Brass started well, although the vibrato in the trombones was rather prominent. There was some insecurity in the solo passages, although the euphonium was good. Articulation in the waltz was good,
especially the cornets, with some fine playing from sop and flugel. With a confident ending 7th seemed about right.

Woking Brass took the stage with a couple of players missing, and the lack of a full trombone section was very noticeable at times. The flugel seemed rather nervous, and Var 1 was a little frantic - not enough clarity in the
sound. Var 4 was phrased tastefully, with the ups and downs well under control, although intonation was a problem at the top of the band. There was some untidiness at the start of the moto perpetuo, particularly in the bottom half of the band, and the bass trombone tone was missed. Towards the end the sound of the band became a little brash, maybe over-compensating for
the missing players - 9th place.

The opening of Horsham's performance was marred by some coarseness from the trombones - also by a mobile phone, albeit a relatively quiet one. The horns in Var 1 seemed underpowered and were lost amongst the rest of the band. Var 4 seemed to be dragged out excessively, losing momentum, and the glock seemed out of sync with the ensemble. With the trombones in the last section sounding a little muddy, and sop rather shrill, the ending was not the most convincing, and the conductor seemed almost to shrug his shoulders at the end - 10th place.

Last to play were Cawston, and heavy vibrato spoilt their sound at times. There seemed to be balance problems, with the trombones over-prominent, and
the horns not audible enough. Again the lyrical solos caught people out, and intonation between the horns and euphonium in the waltz section was dubious. The trombones did come into their own in the little trombone feature towards the end, clearly articulated and spot on together, but elsewhere the bass trombone seemed to be over-compensating for their missing bass layer. With too many splits in the final section 12th place it was.

All in all, the Adjudicator seemed to get it right, although it is a little surprising he didn't mention the intonation problems in his general remarks. It should also be said that the venue is far from perfect: there was a low
platform for the bands to play on, just large enough for the purpose, but making it difficult if the seating arrangements needed to be changed. The sound was not ideal, even sitting right next to the adjudicator's box, the
percussion perhaps suffering in particular from this.

Winning conductor Graham Sheldon was presented with the Reg Nicholson Memorial Trophy, which he had won previously in 1993 as conductor of Castle Point.

Peter Bale

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