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Brighouse & Rastrick Band

An inspired James Gourlay reminds us all of what we have missed about him and his music making...



Conductor: James Gourlay
Soloist: Ellena Newton
RNCM International Brass Band Festival
Sunday 28th January

The welcome return of James Gourlay to the RNCM Festival was a reminder of just how much the banding movement in the UK has missed his free-thinking polymath musicianship.

It was displayed in full as a performer, conductor, teacher, compere and interviewee; his creative musical intellect shining through in a series of finely attuned performances on Sunday evening from the West Riding Band, each rich in stylistic character.

Respectful

‘On the Cornish Coast’  to open was a case in point; Henry Geehl’s bombastic fantasy portrait of a Cornwall of Jamaica Inn smugglers and Poldark daring-do given a modern, but respectful non-PC brushing down that still managed to retain its pastiche romanticism.  

Ellena Newton was the outstanding soloist on Bert Appermont’s ‘Colors’ - the primary ‘Yellow’, ‘Red’  and ‘Blue’ pigmented movements leading into a mixed ‘Green’  finale. 

The palette was also a bipartite exploration of related emotions (following the death of an uncle) – from stimulating and inspiring to passionate and dramatic, melancholic and introvert to hopeful and optimistic. It was a fine performance of resonance; shaped, moulded and delivered with composed appreciation.

It was a fine performance of resonance; shaped, moulded and delivered with composed appreciation.

Contrasting works closed the first, and opened the second half. 

American hutzpah

Dorothy Gates’ ‘Invisible Fire’,  written as an existential appreciation of the feeding of the soul, built in intensity from its fragmentary revivalist hymn tune motifs, whilst Jim Self’s ‘Tour de Force’  was a popcorn bucket of American hutzpah. 

Big, bold, witty and wonderful, it was a tasty, salted mix of Aaron Copland meets Charles Ives in a Pittsburgh bar – and deliciously played as such.

Big, bold, witty and wonderful, it was a tasty, salted mix of Aaron Copland meets Charles Ives in a Pittsburgh bar – and deliciously played as such.

Highlight

The highlight though was a long overdue reprise of Thea Musgrave’s ‘Variations’  (performed at the festival in 2008), which the MD had been part of as a player on its world premiere in 1966 with the National Youth Band of Scotland.  

Now aged 95, hers has been a compositional voice lost to the banding movement though our insularity. Gourlay highlighted it further with his intuitive approach to the fascinating miniature intricacies developed from a solemn theme through five exquisitely delivered variants.

Gourlay highlighted it further with his intuitive approach to the fascinating miniature intricacies developed from a solemn theme through five exquisitely delivered variants.

Philip Wilby’s ‘Wonderous Cross’  also allowed him to tap into the richest seams of the band’s tonality, before a waspish rendition of ‘Variations on a Bass Theme’,  the work that brought him British Open title success in 1998.

It rounded things off with an incessant, majestically joyful energy – one that even the unnecessary inclusion of ‘The Floral Dance’ as an encore did not tarnish.

Iwan Fox 

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