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Tredegar Band

Conductor: Ian Porthouse
Soloist: James Fountain
RNCM Brass Band Festival
RNCM, Manchester
Saturday 28th January


It is a decade since the compositional voice of Gavin Higgins first made an impact at the RNCM Brass Band Festival.

In 2013 Artistic Director Paul Hindmarsh commissioned him alongside Lucy Pankhust, Simon Dobson and Paul McGhee to write a variant part of ‘Diversions after Benjamin Britten’,  which received its premiere performed by Tredegar Band under Ian Porthouse. 

Each has since gone on to make their own readily identifiable mark on both the brass band and wider musical landscapes.  

Higgins has become a hugely influential compositional figure; writing a critically acclaimed Covent Garden opera, Sadler’s Wells ballet, Ivor Novello Award winning ‘Trombone Concerto’,  Aldeburgh Festival cantata and a trio of Proms premieres - the latter, his immense ‘Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra’  played by Tredegar and the National Orchestra of Wales in 2022.

Central core

It was appropriate than that the central core of the programme came with ‘So Spoke Albion’  – written in 2020 for a band which has also long championed his works, but first performed at the 2022 European Championships.

It is startlingly original in outlook; melding mesmeric textures and deep colouring through long elliptical lines of development. The balance comes with his ability to harness stringent percussive dissonances and pulsating fragmentary energy – an alchemy of elemental sources that nod in appreciation in lineage to the likes of Harrison Birtwistle and John McCabe. 

The result, both virtuosic and beautiful (especially the flugel led central section, ‘Catherine’), huge and intimate, left an imposing impression of interpretive authority on the audience.

The result, both virtuosic and beautiful (especially the flugel led central section, ‘Catherine’), huge and intimate, left an imposing impression of interpretive authority on the audience. It was some performance – as was the evocative encore ‘Ar Lan y Mor’  that closed an outstanding concert with succulent emotion.

Tip of the hat

Earlier the link to Benjamin Britten was maintained in Paul Hindmarsh’s cleverly realised arrangement of ‘An American Overture’;  quirkily odd in its liveliness and Britten’s own little ‘tip of the hat’ nods of appreciation to Aaron Copland and American personal freedoms.  

Havergal Brian’s ‘Battle Song’  also brought a mix of the daring and delightful too; a quasi- romantic tone poem that flitted between homage to Bantock, Bax and Vaughan Williams, brass band contest histrionics and Greek mythology. John Pickard’s wonderful editing captured its foibles and fancies to a tee – a gloriously odd gem.

Glorious was perhaps the only adjective that could be used to adequately describe the performances of James Fountain. 

Glorious

Glorious was perhaps the only adjective that could be used to adequately describe the performances of James Fountain. 

His crisp articulation, cultured melodic appraisal of the Hummel ‘Concerto’  was tailored with vitality and finesse (so too the accompaniment), as was ‘Bells’,  a paean of thoughtfulness to Bramwell Tovey by composer Simon Dobson. 

The tenderest command of the soloist was chillingly beautiful, the final note dying away in a needlepoint diminuendo of incredible certainty. 

Iwan Fox 

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