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Pontins championships 2001: Test Piece Review:

Diadem of Gold – G. Bailey arranged Frank Wright.


Who’d be a soprano player eh?   Given that it attracts it’s fair share of weirdo’s, loners, general misfits and oddballs then you can imagine, it’s not an instrument that attracts the “accountant types” out there.   Given that they’ve also got to play parts like that found in “Diadem of Gold” is another reason for the sane and socially responsible amongst you to give it a miss.   No messing - this is a bloody hard piece for the men and women of the high wire.

The piece has been around for some considerable time in it’s varied form, but it’s general provenance, as the say on the Antiques Roadshow is a little bit of a mystery.   It seems to have been written by a bloke called George Bailey around the turn of the century as a fairly run of the mill overture, but it wasn’t until Frank Wright got hold of it and transcribed it for the 1953 National Finals that it came to real prominence.   Since then it has been the bete-noire of nearly every sop player in the world at some stage.

Fodens won that day and they were lucky enough to have perhaps one of the greatest sop player ever, Charlie Cook to play the part. By the time it came around again at a major contest - the 1977 Open, most players knew of its challenges, but it still remained the ultimate test of soprano players nerve and technique.

It is not a great test piece for the band as a whole, and the technical challenges for the ensemble will be overcome by most bands with ease, but it’s the soprano and solo cornet that hold the key, and that’s the beauty and danger of the piece.   If you’ve got two good players in these positions who are not liable to have sweaty palms, rubber lips and twitchy backsides, then you could be onto a good thing. If not……….

The opening section will require good intonation as well as a distinct lack of vibrato and there are mean little tests for most sections of the band before you get a chance to blow things straight around figure 4.   There are lots of little semi quaver runs for the lower end (oh no!) before the top of the band takes over with the same stuff.   There’s a nasty bit of euph work to be overcome and an even nastier link passage with the bass before we come to the first quick bit.

This is only marked minim = 126 so it’s not a great rush, but the solo cornet and sop will have to display neat and tidy playing allied to a good technique.   It’s light and playful – and full of points losing traps.   This moves along nicely until the boys on the bass end, troms etc (who would have been pretty bored stiff until now) get the chance to blow their nuts off with the help of the back row cornets around figure 18.   This lasts a lip bursting few minutes, and what with the top cornets and horns whacking out tremolos it’s all beefy stuff and should show which bands can make the big rounded, rather than big and brassy sounds.   This all dies away when we reach the lovely Andante Affettuoso.

Enter your solo cornet player with a tired lip and a first entry leap slurred from middle C to top Ab.   The sop enters next with a very difficult obligato part that’s a real bumclencher, whilst below it all the horns have a fine time with an easy tune.   The solo cornet take over the obligato line, until the sop has the most wicked leap from D# to top B as they take over the main solo line. This section is enough to turn sop players into 2nd baritone players overnight! Only joking. Get this lot out of the way with any hitches and your band could very well be heading for glory.

Everyone gets the chance then to show off their romantic style of playing and for conductors to squeeze the last bit of drama and stamina out of their players before it’s all go again and a repeat of the first quick section.   The solo cornet and sop to the tricky stuff (and by this time they are just about knackered) before a long build up to figure 40 and the big climax.   Then it’s plenty more running around with the bass end pumping it out and even the bored percussion team - a quiet piece for the shed builders this -  adding a bit of colour.   Some fiddly old runs in the cornets before a repeat of the fanfare motifs.

Just when you thought that was that, a nasty little ending, where the whole band has to play syncopated chords from pp to ff before a big final chord and welcome release for a few pints and a lip transplant.   Highly enjoyable and highly knackering.  

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