The developing popularity, as well as the strength of the fledgling Italian brass banding movement was on vibrant display at the Concorso Nazionale Championships near Bolzano on the weekend.
Five bands took part in the two sections of the second National competition at the Sala Culturale in the picturesque south Tyrol town near Bolzano, supported by an enthusiastic audience that certainly showed their appreciation of the performances — none more so than the reception given to the eventual champions, Italian Brass Band from Rome.
Led by their charismatic Musical Director, Filippo Cangiamila, they produced cultured renditions of the chosen test-piece, 'A London Overture' and own-choice selection of 'Metropolis 1927' to retain their title by a single point from impressive rivals Brass Band Wipptal, with last year's runner-up Brass Band Uberetsch in third.
And although the band has already claimed a European title by winning the Challenge Section in Ostende this year, the evidence of the pace of their improvement since that triumph, especially in terms of middle band tonality, considered style and dynamic variance, was marked.
Continued progress will surely see them as one of favourites to add further success as they return to defend that title in Utrecht next May.
There was little doubt that Italian Brass Band was a worthy winner — with the written remarks from judges David Childs, Hannes Buchegger and Andreas Luckner, laced with multi-lingual praise.
Adjectives such as 'impressive', 'convincing', 'superb', and 'wonderful', were littered throughout their adjudications, with special mention made of the quality of the solo playing, and especially that of 'Best Instrumentalist' winner, euphonium player Luciano de Luca — who deservedly claimed the accolade for the second successive year.
He later told 4BR (after he given another demonstration of his solo credentials in the Gala Concert) that he was 'honoured' to have received the award, especially as David Childs was listening to him perform.
And whilst the success in Eppan means the Italian Brass Band has also secured their place in Montreux in 2019, their MD told 4BR that he still believed that they are still some way from making the step up to the elite level of European contesting.
"I believe we have great potential," Filippo Cangiamila said following the announcement of the results. "We have improved from last year and from Ostende,"- a point illustrated him pinching the gap between his finger and thumb to show that progress is being made in incremental margins.
"We have had some changes and worked on our sound, especially with our tenor horns and baritones. We want to keep improving, but realistically — step by step. I am very proud of my players and we look forward to playing in Utrecht and Montreux and getting better and better."
Bridge the gap
Few critics would argue that the new champions are showing ample evidence of being able to bridge the gap that still exists between the best ensembles in the emerging banding nations and those at the elite level.
However, the Italian Brass Band's contest record is now backed by an increasingly busy concert schedule as well as the release of a new CD of Giuseppe Verdi works — one of which, 'La Battaglia di Legnano' they showcased in equally impressive fashion in the pre-results Gala Concert.
More encouragement for the nation came with the performances of the other competitors in the contest — with another former European champion in Brass Band Wipptal producing vibrant accounts of the Sparke and Graham works under Florian Klingler that sparkled with individual excellence and bold ensemble work.
Meanwhile, Brass Band Uberetsch showed their improvement and ambition with their renditions of 'Partita' by Philip Sparke and 'Turris Fortissima' by Stephen Ponsford.
A little earlier in the day two bands performed in the Division 2 event.
With an emphasis on participation and inclusion, both Imola Brass Band and eventual champion, Brasskneidl — Die Puschtra Brassband, fielded line-ups with trumpets and French horns — although the warm tonal quality displayed spoke of musicians and conductors of considered musicality.
That was shown with the winners in particular under MD Robert Regensberger, with a programme that saw them open with the classic march, 'Knight Templar' played at the pace of a Rossini overture and an equally slick rendition of 'Gaelforce'.
Contrast came with the languid sensuality shown in Piazzolla's 'Chiquilin de Bachin' before they rounded their programme off with a passionate 'Dragon's Rise'.
Speaking to 4BR a little later, their spokesperson said that they were delighted to be able to take part in the event for the first time and that they hoped that they will now — just five years after being formed — develop their instrumentation further to become a true brass band.
The same desire was also revealed by Imola Brass Band, who performed 'Song for Japan' before giving a very individual, but highly enjoyable rendition of 'Symphonic Suite for Brass Band' by Leighton Lucas and a spirited showing of 'Anniversary Music' by Betrand Moren to close their encouraging debut.
With the contest benefiting greatly from the evangelical passion and leadership of the wonderful Lito Fontana and his wife Mona, allied to the excellent local organisers, and supportive local municipality (with plenty of posters out around the town), the Championships offered a tantalising glimpse into the potential ground swell of participation and enthusiasm that could be untapped in Italy over the next few years.
A number of leading instrument makers were on hand to showcase their wares (and were inundated with impromptu soloists to try them out), whilst the warmth of the support from the audience (around 500 people packed into the excellent Sala Culturale) both for the contest and concert also made for a memorable atmosphere.
And as Lito Fontana revealed to 4BR, he believes that the emergence of a well organised Italian brass band movement can also be replicated in other European countries.
"We are all delighted by the way things are going here in Italy," he said. "We are realistic of course and we must build carefully to make sure we create something to last, but the signs are good, with nine bands now wishing to take part.
Next year we hope to go to Palermo in Scilly, and I have also been approached to see if I can help with brass bands in both Spain and Portugal. The people know, like me, that it is a wonderful way to make beautiful music."
And as was shown in Eppan on the weekend — if there is one man who can make it a success wherever he goes, it is Lito Fontana. Where Italy and Italian Brass Band has lead the way, others will now surely follow.
Recall the live action:
We want to keep improving, but realistically — step by step. I am very proud of my players and we look forward to playing in Utrecht and Montreux and getting better and betterItalian Brass Band MD, Filippo Cangiamila
Adjudicators: David Childs, Hannes Buchegger, Andreas Luckner
1. Italian Brass Band (Filippo Cangiamila) — 95
2. Brass Band Wipptal (Florian Klinger) — 94
3. Brass Band Uberetsch (Hans Finatzer) — 92
Best Soloist: Luciano de Luca (Italian Brass Band)
Adjudicators: David Childs, Hannes Buchegger, Andreas Luckner
1. Brasskneidl — Die Puschtra Brassband (Robert Regensberger) — 90
2. Imola Brass Band (Fabrizio Bugani) — 85
Best Soloists: Flugals from Brasskneidl — Die Puschtra Brassband