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Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Brass Band & Tredegar Band

Conductor: Ian Porthouse, Dr Stephen Allen
Soloist: Conal Bembridge-Sayers
The Bradshaw Hall
Wednesday 19th June


The Welsh champion returned to Birmingham in their role as Brass Band in Residence just a few days before their appearance at the ‘UK Band of the Year’ contest in Manchester.

Not surprisingly then their contribution was based around the programme for that event; a trio of sharply polished renditions of ‘Phenomena Fanfare’ by Jacob Larsen, ‘Eyes of a Child’ featuring flugel soloist Danny Winder and Oliver Waespi’s majestic ‘As if a voice we in them...’ highlighting trademark ensemble balance, precision and transparency.  

The MD also ensured that they were also a sympathetic counterpoint to the suave elegance of soloist Conal Bembridge–Sayers on Edward Gregson’s ‘Concertante for Piano and Brass Band’, as well providing a warmly lit glow of nostalgia with Matthew Hall’s ‘The Smile’.


The youthful Gregson (his work was written as a third year undergraduate) was seemingly a bit of a musical magpie - but one heck of a skilful one at that. 

These were shiny baubles of poise, panache and pastiche, with affectionate, remarkably mature nods of appreciation towards Gershwin, Rachmaninov, Ireland and even Elmer as well as Leonard Bernstein.

The rich colour palette and flowing lines (with the tenderest of central Nocturnes) were a joy - as were the little buds of motifs that dotted the score like seeds ready to be planted on a future fertile brass band compositional field. 

These were shiny baubles of poise, panache and pastiche, with affectionate, remarkably mature nods of appreciation towards Gershwin, Rachmaninov, Ireland and even Elmer as well as Leonard Bernstein. 


A very different type of appreciation came with Stephen Allen’s revisionist thesis into the inspiration behind Elgar’s ‘Severn Suite’ - one that certainly removed the encrusted dust of perceived opinion that has encased the work for far too long. 

According to his persuasive argument, this was no longer an iconic work of Empire and class ridden conservatism, but of personal loneliness, bitter memory and lost faith.  As a result it made for engrossing listening - Allen loosening the constraints of cloying tradition to draw a deliberately liberating sense of freedom from the score. 

So too the student’s vibrant ‘Paganini Variations’ - played with a touch of stylish panache measured purpose, whilst the massed band items of  the ‘Fugue’ from ‘Graduation Day’ (a neat touch given that some were finishing their academic studies) and ‘MacArthur Park’ rounded things off with throbbing bombast.

Iwan Fox 

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