2004 European Championships - Retrospective - First Section

12-May-2004

An enjoyable First Section Contest provided further evidence that the European brass band movement is alive and well, but just needs a little bit of a helping hand.


Participating Bands:

Arklow Shipping Silver Band (John Bonnor) - Ireland
Austrian Band (Uwe Koller) - Austria
Pfeffersberg Brass Band (Bernhard Reifer) - Italy
Torshavn Brass Band (Ove Olsen) - Faeroe Islands

Adjudicators:
Tom Brevik (Norway), Nigel Boddice (Scotland & GB), Johan de Meij
(Netherlands)

Music:
A concert programme chosen from a set list of works. Included in each programme, a new commission from Alan Fernie "Airs and Dances"

"Airs and Dances"
A short suite loosely based on fiddle tunes composed by the famous Scots fiddler Neil Gow, from a collection published in 1830 and "respectfully dedicated to the Noblemen and gentlemen of the royal Caledonian Hunt". The tunes used in the suite are "Mrs. Fleming of Moness", "Lamentation for Jas. Moray Esq. of Abercarney and "Simon Brodie"

Order of Play
Austrian Band (Uwe Koller) - Austria
Arklow Shipping Silver Band (John Bonnor) - Ireland
Torshavn Brass Band (Ove Olsen) - Faeroe Islands
Pfeffersberg Brass Band (Bernhard Reifer) - Italy

Introduction:
Following an early 8.00am draw, a decent audience making the hall about ¼ to full gave compère David Cunnigham a rousing cheer as he gave a short welcome to all the bands in their respective languages.

Taking the stage first in their black uniform dress the Austrian Band opened the contest by playing the set work Airs and Dances.

The first movement contained strong thematic lines and emphasised dance rhythm, which led to some neat chord work through which the band played extremely well. A warm second movement with syncopated rhythm just suffered from some intonation problems. Their performance featured some nice work from the euphonium, flugel and glockenspiel before the timpani released the cornet and the music quickened whirling and spinning to a frenzied climax.

From the set list the band chose Mars and Uranus from The Planets, Cartoon Music (Peter Graham) and Gaelforce (Peter Graham).

Giving Mars a spirited performance with lots of vigour there were moments of difficulty encountered though. The opening bass line figure was a bit lumpy and an obvious crack appeared before the final statement by the
cornets. Throughout this piece you had to be taken with the soprano player with his shock of blond hair and foot tapping enthusiasm and the concentrated playing of the percussion section.

The euph again came through very well in Uranus, however the difficult rhythms in this work presented their problems for the overall ensemble.

Cartoon Music is challenging happy music that featured percussion at their best and notable in this performance was the trombone section. Finishing their selection with Gaelforce this was certainly confidently taken despite
a slight edgy entry from the flugel. Whilst the percussion rhythm is a vital element the emphasis on the Celtic drum pattern in the work might have been just a touch over the top.

Arklow Shipping Silver Band perhaps chose the most traditional programme from the list of set works and really set themselves a stern challenge to take the title. A programme selection of Rhapsody in Brass (Dean Goffin), Demelza (Hugh Nash) and Toccata from Suite Gothique (arr. Ball).

Rhapsody in Brass is a challenging work and whilst not error free, the first movement had a few too many clips perhaps, the band had a warm balanced ensemble. The euphonium had a good day and the soprano played very well which he then went on to further demonstrate in Demelza when he stood to take the solo in a nicely weighted performance.

Their performance of Airs and Dances separated these two works and whilst the simply stated opening movement and nicely interrelated slower section worked well, benefiting from some terrific euphonium work, the final section just got away from them feeling somewhat rushed and untidy.

Toccata from Suite Gothique once more proved a real test. The basses made a tremendous account of their part and it was only a sticky section before the final cornet statement that tripped them up.

Torshavn Brass Band chose a programme that unquestionably played to the strengths of the band with Blenheim Flourishes (James Curnow),Vitae Lux (Frode Alnaes), Trumpet Blues and Cantabile (James/Mathias) and Breakout (Ronan Hardimann) sitting alongside the set work Airs and Dances.

It took a little time for the percussion to set up and I am sure the percussionist, who had a happy stage presence, will take it in good spirit when we say he seemed to be able to perform the skills of a magician in pulling an untold numbers of beaters at will from the blue uniform draping his ample build.

Whilst the band didn't have the biggest and most rounded sound heard over the weekend it was certainly balanced and quite safe – a comment that was as
true for Blenheim Flourishes as it was for the set work Airs and Dances and Vitae Lux.

With Trumpet Blues and Cantabile the band were able to demonstrate a real sense of swing and enthusiasm and whilst not the cleanest of playing the extrovert mood must have carried through to the adjudicators box.

For Breakout the percussionist took off his uniform jacket and produced a bodhrán to give the music an authentic Irish flavour and this safe performance capped a very well played programme.

Taking the stage last in the section Pfeffersberg Brass Band can only have been a whisker off taking 1st prize from Torshavn Brass Band. Dressed in their silver grey waistcoats and ties they took the stage with a real air of
confidence. To compliment Airs and Dances they chose Fanfare and Chorale - Laudes Domini (William Gordon) and Phaéton (Eddy Debons).

Fanfare and Chorale - Laudes Domini benefited from nicely shaped lines and good dynamics. The basses in particular complimented the overall music picture that certainly had a feel of John Williams about it.

Airs and Dances again worked in their favour and other than a slight stutter in the flugel line the band produced a crisp and very bright clean sound.

Phaéton is a most interesting and demanding work. At times dark and compelling at others bold and fanfare on like, this is a quite demanding work calling for strong ensemble sounds and further requiring good soloists, from the bass to cope with the extended solos. Playing with french horns gave some of the musical sections a very distinctive timbre and was particularly present in this work.

Overall this section presented an interesting and varied standard of performance and it again gave an opportunity for emerging and non-championship bands a platform in European competition.

Result
1st - Torshavn Brass Band (Ove Olsen) - Faeroe Islands
2nd - Pfeffersberg Brass Band (Bernhard Reifer) - Italy
3rd - Arklow Shipping Silver Band (John Bonnor) - Ireland
4th - Austrian Band (Uwe Koller) - Austria

John James

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