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CD review: The Nationals 2018

Highlights from the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain
Featuring: Foden's, Oldham Band (Lees), Middleton Band, Barnsley Brass, Stamford Brass, RAF Squadronaires
CD: DOY CD388

National

If Harry Mortimer’s famous maxim about brass band contest winners and beaten rivals really holds true, then there may only be a very limited market for this particular CD release.

That would be a pity, as it’s a lasting reminder of what it takes to win a National title.  

Compelling

For Foden’s it was all about musicality; a reading of graceful lyricism and textured character of Kenneth Downie’s deceptive ‘Handel in the Band’ enhanced by inherent understanding and technical assuredness by the performers. 

Under Russell Gray the score evolves with subtle shapings and flows that are much more clearly defined through the close acoustic immediacy of the recording microphones than were perhaps first apparent amid the echoing vastness of the Albert Hall.  It really is a compelling performance. 

Meanwhile, it was confidence – layer upon layer of it, that saw Oldham Band (Lees) triumph on ‘King Arthur – Scenes from a Radio Drama’ at Cheltenham.  

The opening fanfares became the heralded proclamations of success as MD John Collins combined artisan ensemble solidity with polished solo classiness to secure a commanding First Section victory on a work only the winner comprehensively mastered. 

It was a closer affair in the Second Section, although the experienced nous of conductor Kevin Gibbs is certainly apparent in an admirably secure and detailed winning account of Stephen Bulla’s evocatively coloured ‘Firestorm’. 

In contrast, contest craft and knowhow were the keys to Barnsley Brass winning the Third Section – as MD William Rushworth tempered the adrenaline drip feed and dynamic enthusiasm to produce a refined account of ‘Episodes for Brass’ to take the National accolade.

Under Russell Gray the score evolves with subtle shapings and flows that are much more clearly defined through the close acoustic immediacy of the recording microphones than were perhaps first apparent amid the echoing vastness of the Albert Hall.  It really is a compelling performance. 

Confidence

To win the Fourth Section, high-quality basic band playing delivered by a MD and ensemble brimming with confidence. 

Stamford Brass secured an emphatic success on ‘Divertimento for Brass’ with Julian Bright’s approach allowing his players to shine – and shine brightly they did too. Theirs was a victory of considerable substance.   

And whilst the bonus padding of the Royal Air Force Squadronaires makes for enjoyable polished breaks between the test-piece performances, the real interest is to hear the way in which each band approached and executed their contest winning plans. 

Five very different ways then to win a major title - all worthy and all well worth listening too again, even for beaten rivals who HM once so succinctly observed – ‘had to make their own arrangements’ after the dust had settled.

Iwan Fox


To purchase: http://www.worldofbrass.com/100361-group.html

Playlist:

1. Flying Home (Lionel Hampton trans. Barry Fogie)
2. Divertimento for Brass (Darrol Barry)
3. Where or When (Rodgers & Hart arr. Ted Heath)
4. Episodes for Brass (Gareth Churcher)
5. Firestorm (Stephen Bulla)
6. A Few Good Men (Gordon Goodwin)
7. King Arthur – Scenes from a Radio Drama (Paul Hindmarsh)
8. Manhattan (Rodgers & Hart arr. Dick Barrell)
9. Handel in the Band (Kenneth Downie)

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