The continued rise to top section contesting prominence of Filton Concert Brass was aided by a splendid Senior Trophy success in Blackpool on the weekend.
Directed by Tom Davoren, the band based just outside Bristol delivered an outstanding performance of Gilbert Vinter's 'James Cook Circumnavigator' to claim the title in what was only their second appearance at the Spring Festival.
It is the latest success for an increasingly formidable contesting outfit that continues to make a name for itself with its innovative project led approach, but which under the baton of their Welsh conductor has also secured the First Section West of England, National Championship of Great Britain and Welsh Open titles in the past year or so.
They will be joined in the Senior Cup in 2017 alongside impressive fellow qualifiers Goodwick Brass, Oldham (Lees) and Jackfield (Elcock Resien), whilst at the other end of the results table the sextet of Medway, 1st Old Boys, City of Bradford, Felling, Foresters Brass 2000 and Leicester Co-operative must set their sights on re-qualification.
There was little doubt in the minds of adjudicators David Thornton and Sandy Smith that Vinter's final major work had provided a stern challenge of technical and musical character for the 20 competitors on what turned out to be a thoroughly engaging contest.
"We had a fantastic day listening to a wonderful piece," David told the audience before the announcement of the results. "It tested the bands in a number of ways; dynamics, sound, soloists (he made a special mention of the quality of euphonium playing on show) — even triple tonguing trombones.
It was a question of finding the drama in the music though — the subject matter told us all about that. Bands had to capture the musicality and the piece had to ooze that drama to work and work well."
A little later the judges told 4BR that they had few problems sorting the bands out. "The best stood out thanks to intelligent approaches by conductors and good quality playing all round the stands," Sandy said, before adding: "We had hoped that the overall standard of the contest would have been better though.
A number of performances were just too bland and lacked drama, pathos and heroism."
However, the Scot, who has put his head above the parapet in recent times with his strong views on contest test-piece suitability, was in no doubt that despite its age, Vinter's colourful musical seafaring portrait had proved its worth once again.
"It was an excellent choice for those with realistic aspirations to climb the Spring Festival ladder," he said. "It gave them an opportunity to showcase their musicality on firm technical foundations. The piece may be over 40 years old, but it still takes some playing even now."
The combination of classy musicality and solid technique was certainly something that they highlighted in their remarks of the winners.
"A real stamp of quality," David wrote of Filton. "An excellent show! Bravo to all." Meanwhile, Sandy added: "This has 'film music' like drama." before rounding off his remarks by stating, "A fine ending to a really stylish performance full of detail."
Not surprisingly Filton's MD was delighted when 4BR finally caught up with him on Monday morning.
"That was perhaps the most complete performance the band has delivered on stage," Tom Davoren said. "I loved working on the piece — and so did the players. It's easy to forget just how brilliant a composer Vinter was; but as soon as you explore the score you can see and hear his genius at work. It's a composition that has lost none of its musical or contesting relevance."
He added: "Amazingly it's the oldest piece we have worked on, but we still found it so fresh. The players rose to the challenge — especially Anthony Smith on euphonium and all the main soloists.
Having a settled band that enjoys the project led approach we work to is a great bonus. The players deserve all the credit and the break they can enjoy before we look towards the Wychavon contest and the rest of the year."
Also with plenty to look forward to is Goodwick Brass, as they marked their Spring Festival debuts with a fine performance under MD Matthew Jenkins to take another substantive next step forward on their rise to top flight prominence.
A little earlier it was the bold Scots of Unison Kinneil conducted by Colin Mackenzie who set the initial marker off the number 3 draw to eventually finish sixth, before the youthful Oldham (Lees) under John Collins upped the James Cook ante with a spirited account that led the way at the halfway point of the contest.
Soon after though came a quartet of colourful renditions — each bringing that essential sense of drama out of the score in their different ways; the first coming from the confident midlanders of Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) under Simon Platford to finish fourth, followed immediately by Goodwick.
Then came the eventual champion with their classy account enhanced by the excellent contributions of all their main solo players — and especially 'Best Instrumentalist' award winner Anthony Smith on euphonium, before a vibrant East London Brass conducted by Jayne Murrill claimed the final spot in the top-six.
There was also a great deal to enjoy from just about every performance, although a number of bands failed to appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the Spanish Hall acoustic.
Some over-enthusiastic percussion and questionable tempos saw a number of renditions holed below the Plimsoll line, whilst some equally idiosyncratic interpretations of Vinter's score were also evident — with one or two MDs perhaps showing their unfamiliarity with the composer's intuitive but very specific scoring requirements.
That was certainly not the case with Filton Concert Brass though; as a band that despite hailing from a part of Bristol more renowned for its aviation industry, showed that it was also very much at home with its historic seafaring tradition too.
I loved working on the piece — and so did the players. It's easy to forget just how brilliant a composer Vinter was; but as soon as you explore the score you can see and hear his genius at workTom Davoren.
Venue: Spanish Hall
Test Piece: James Cook Circumnavigator (Gilbert Vinter)
Adjudicators: Sandy Smith & Dr David Thornton
1. Filton Concert Brass (Tom Davoren)*
2. Goodwick Brass (Matthew Jenkins)*
3. Oldham (Lees) (John Collins)*
4. Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) (Simon Platford)*
5. East London Brass (Jayne Murrill)
6. Unison Kinneil (Colin McKenzie)
7. Roberts Bakery (Simon Stonehouse)
8. Laganvale (Metal Technology) (Stephen Crooks)
9. Drighlington (John Roberts)
10. Bo'ness & Carriden (Andrew Duncan)
11. SPAL Sovereign Brass (Trevor Jones)
12. Tylorstown (Gary Davies)
13. Longridge (Mareika Gray)
14. Dalmellington (Richard Evans)
15. Medway (Melvin White)**
16. 1st Old Boys (Stephen Cairns)**
17. City of Bradford (Lee Skipsey)**
18. Felling (Chris Bentham)**
19. Foresters Brass 2000 (Jack Capstaff)**
20. Leicester Co-operative (Graham Jacklin)**
Best Instrumentalist: Anthony Smith (euphonium) — Filton Concert
*Promoted to Senior Cup