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Fairey Band

2019 RNCM Brass Band Festival
Conductor: Garry Cutt
RNCM Manchester
Sunday 27th January


Although discussing current banding form always makes for an interesting topic of debate for those who attend the RNCM Festival, the only competitive element of the weekend was to be found with the triennial John Golland Composer Award.

This year it was the Fairey Band tasked with giving a trio of world premieres of works from finalists Marcus Venables, James Chan and Jay Richardson (who won the £500 prize), bookended by a brace of compositions by Golland himself. 

They did so splendidly. 

Lunar drive

The Stockport band opened with ‘Bellna’; a celebratory work full of the typical Golland tropes of unusual inflections and delicate dissonances framed on a canvas of rich harmonies and transparent rhythmic structures. 

Garry Cutt paced the music adroitly to contrast the upbeat sounds of the opening movement with the haunting lunar drive on a high mountain pass that followed - all in time to arrive bang on the button for the joyful feast day celebrations in the Swiss town of Bienne that inspired the work.   

There were few delicacies and inflections however to be found in ‘Final Supremacy’ by Marcus Venables; an overtly ambitious Championship Section ‘test-piece’ of vivid Day-Glo colours, taurine excess technique and Spinal Tap dynamic overload. 

And whilst there was certainly substance and originality at its core, not even the MDs excellent direction (and some brilliant playing from Kevin Crockford and others) could make it sound any less frenetic.

There were few delicacies and inflections however to be found in ‘Final Supremacy’ by Marcus Venables; an overtly ambitious Championship Section ‘test-piece’ of vivid Day-Glo colours, taurine excess technique and Spinal Tap dynamic overload. 

Sanctuary

James Chan’s ‘Tombeu’ did offer something very different in contrast; a short, glacial processional that had echoes of Birtwistle in its use of a trio of fanfares followed by a rather nebulous soundscape.  The winner - Jay Richardson’s ‘Clamour’, was also laced with dark textures, although hung from stanchion points that were more understandable to identify in an immersive sanctuary of timbres and tonality.

And that was that - with the audience left to ponder their own competitive decisions as the judges (Edward Gregson, Paul Hindmarsh and Martin Ellerby) took less than 5 minutes to make up their minds. 

In the meantime, Garry Cutt satisfyingly upped the mood by leading Fairey through a classy rendition of Golland’s vigorous ‘Graubunden March’.

Iwan Fox 

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