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RNCM Brass Band

Conductors: Florent Didier, Maria Barbosa Aristizabal, Andreas Asiikkis
Soloist: James Blackford
RNCM Brass Band Festival
RNCM, Manchester
Sunday 29th January



This concert was a substantive endorsement of the talents of performers, conductors and composers currently studying at the RNCM in Manchester.

Guest MD Florent Didier (an alumnus of the UFR Reims) had earlier expressed his delight at the standard of receptive musicianship that he was able to tap into – especially the featured euphonium soloist James Blackford (above).

He is the solo euphonium in the Royal Australian Air Force Band and has just completed a two-year Master of Music degree supported by the Australian Music Foundation and Tait Memorial Trust.

His superb performance (from memory) of Martin Ellerby’s demanding ‘Euphonium Concerto’  was a thrilling display of tempered virtuosity and mature musicality – brimming with engaging self-confidence and clear-cut communicative ease.   It deserved the reward of a first-class Qantas air ticket home. 

His superb performance (from memory) of Martin Ellerby’s demanding ‘Euphonium Concerto’  was a thrilling display of tempered virtuosity and mature musicality – brimming with engaging self-confidence and clear-cut communicative ease.

Communicative skills

Conductors Maria Barbosa Aristizabal and Andreas Asiikkis are also two Masters students, with styles obviously being honed for the orchestral world - balanced, contained and clearly defined. 

Their communicative skills also brought out the character of the music from their eager players. The bubbly opener, ‘A Flying Fanfare’  by Adam Webster and Chris Cook’s BrookWright International Composer Competition winning ‘Excursion’  were well crafted concert pieces of rich promise.

Tributes

Two former alumni composers whose works have reached wider audiences were also featured. 

Jonathan Bates’ ‘Prelude on St Clements’  was a touching tribute from a former student who learnt so much from his association with the maestro. Based on the Rev Clement C. Scholefield’s 1874 hymn tune that Tovey used to conclude National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain concerts, it was written and performed with unfussy sentiment.

Lucy Pankhurst’s ‘Prelude: His Depth’  was also a tribute – in this case to Benjamin Britten. Part of a larger work (‘Diversions after Benjamin Britten’) featured at the festival in 2013, it is a deeply evocative realisation of the emotional and symbolic subtexts that underpin his operas. It too was shaped and delivered with informed understanding.  

Clarity

It is always good to see Florent Didier’s precise direction in action – on this occasion bringing spatial clarity to both Joel Kirk’s ‘Fantasia’ (Cantata giogoso for brass band)  and Chabrier’s ‘Bouree Fantasque’. 

The Chabrier was a neat bit of musical ‘entente-cordiale’; Howard Snell’s clever arrangement delivered with a pronounced gallic joie de vivre of bluff pomp and Parisian chic dazzle. 

Kirk won the RNCM John Golland Composer Award in 2021.  His new work is inspired by themes of medieval plainchant infused by thoroughly modern inflections that skirted close to Billy May’s ‘Green Hornet’  and Derek Bourgeois’ ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’  – the finale a long chorale followed by a fizzy adrenaline sprint.   

The Chabrier was a neat bit of musical ‘entente-cordiale’; Howard Snell’s clever arrangement delivered with a pronounced gallic joie de vivre of bluff pomp and Parisian chic dazzle. 

Iwan Fox 

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