2004 West Lothian Festival of Brass Final - Retrospective

30-Jun-2004

27th June 2004
Howden Park Centre
Livingston.


The West Lothian Festival of Brass Final went the way of the bookmakers with Whitburn clinching a well-deserved victory, despite a fine performance from Newtongrange on the night.

Allan RamseyIt was Newtongrange who opened the proceedings with a bright and lively performance of Trumpet Blues and Cantabile by Harry James. This suited the cornets down to the ground but had MD Allan Ramsey pulling out the stops to keep the accompaniment up to speed. Some bass sound was slightly lost in the excitement but nevertheless it was a well played item.

Following on was Russian Sailor's Dance by Gliere. This performance captured the mood intended but not all the players seemed to want to dance at the same pace, with the middle of the band sprinting to keep up at one stage. Once they got it together though it remained lively to the close.

One of the highlights of the night followed. Alex Philip's virtuoso performance on trombone of Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust was slightly unfortunate not to take the solo award and demonstrated beautiful tone, excellent dynamic range and flexibility of style throughout the piece - sheer class from the soloist and a sensitive accompaniment from the band.

Force of Destiny was their choice of overture, as it was in their previous heat. Sadly, on the night this suffered a few slips and seemed slightly hesitant throughout, especially in the intricate semiquaver passages. Little problems occurred here and there with balance and clarity and basses occasionally got lost for sound in the heavy stuff. However, there was more than enough good playing on show in what is an extremely testing overture.

An Allan Ramsey trademark followed with the Salvation Army piece Mid All the Traffic. This is a lovely piece and is more difficult to play than it sounds. Whilst the intonation and upper dynamics were dealt with comfortably, the lower dynamic range proved a bit more of a handful with the band getting nowhere near quiet enough.

Next up we had John Williams' Liberty Fanfare. This type of piece suits Newtongrange's bright sound and they certainly did not disappoint in this one. Once more we had brightness and clarity in the top end with some excellent sop playing demonstrated throughout.

Stevie Wonder's You Are The Sunshine Of My Life was next up as the band's ensemble piece. This was beautifully handled by the three flugel players and the trombone section  and a delicately played band accompaniment contributed to a successful item.

Another favourite of Allan Ramsey's had the audience tapping their toes with Mark Freeh's fabulous arrangement of the Paul Robeson hit Ol' Man River. This flew from start to finish with some super playing from the trombones especially and percussionist Derek Love wowed the audience with some startling stick work on the kit.

Newtongrange ended their contribution to the evening with rival conductor on the night Andy Duncan's arrangement of Reunion and Finale from Gettysburg. This, like Force of Destiny, was carried forward from the semi final and was very well balanced and well directed as the MD held the reins to avoid the urge to go OTT as sometimes happens with finishing items.

Newtongrange's programme was generally well played and directed and was full of interesting blends of style and sounds. Perhaps not as strong as their winning performance in the semi final but evidence once again that they are getting back to their best. How they must be hoping that they can keep a grip on Allan Ramsey in some capacity, he has certainly made a considerable difference in his short time with them.

Andy Duncan - MD WhitburnAnd so on to Whitburn. Despite an uncharacteristic split on the front row to open with on Duel of the Fates from the Phantom Menace Suite, they soon settled down into their routine with some fabulous control to compliment an enormous sound. Loads of energy too in what was a good opener for them.

Whitburn moved from  Outer  Space to the Outer Hebrides with The Old Shepherdess and the Norse Maiden's Spirit, a lovely movement from Andrew Duncan's Hebridean Suite. This had the audience spellbound as the band went into sonorous mode to capture, with a little help from a smoke machine, the atmosphere of the piece right from the start.

A fine example of contrast followed with the Overture choice for the evening. Tarris Bulba, albeit quite short, showed the major strengths of the band. There was an odd moment of loose ensemble between band and percussion, but quite simply it was blistering from beginning to end with some stunning dynamics, great fast playing and a huge finish. Like their first round choice, Peterloo Overture by Malcolm Arnold, this had to be close to picking up the best overture prize, which actually went to Kirkintilloch's performance of Le Corsaire in the round against Whitburn and Kingdom Brass.

Whitburn's first soloist of the evening was principal cornet Eleanor Ferguson playing You Raise Me Up by Rolf Lovland. Whilst beautifully and sensitively played by soloist and band, there were one or two minor glitches at the top of the range in the solo line. Eleanor plays with great style though and this was still good enough to clinch the overall soloist award for the competition, this element, like the overture and ensemble prizes, judged by Tony Swainson.

In Scherzo from Shostakovich 10th Symphony, Whitburn were again in exciting mode and but for a minor moment of loose ensemble in the cornets, it was almost as good as it gets.

Whitburn's second solo item of the evening featured Solo Euphonium player Evelyn Bradley performing Philip Sparke's Pantomime. As you would expect from Evelyn this was very well played, however, the band accompaniment sometimes got a bit overpowering, especially towards the end of the piece. A couple of albeit forgivable slips, again towards the end from the soloist, may just have set this apart from the solo award contenders.

Some light relief next as the Whitburn Bass Section gave the audience some Good Vibrations ! Renamed The Bass Boys and arranged by Andy Duncan, this Beach Boys classic had Daft Shirts, shorts, beach balls, inflatable shark, the lot, oh and some not too bad playing thrown in as well. I won't mention any names but the need to go topless in the curtain call just to show you can be under 10 stone and still play a tuba was a step too far !

One of the highlights of the semi final was Scarlet Ribbons, scored for Flugel, Tenor Horn, Tenor Trombone, Euphonium and Piano with occasional band accompaniment thrown in for good measure. This performance although perhaps ever so slightly less effective than the semi final performance, but beautiful nonetheless, featured moving and delicate playing by everyone involved. For us, a stunning arrangement which brought tears to some in the audience and was a main contender for the overall ensemble award, which in the end went to the Newtongrange trombone section for their excellent first round performance of 'It's All Right'.

Andy Duncan's A Manchester Tale brought Whitburn's show to a close and this showed the power and dynamic range of the band once more. Complete with air raid siren we had some amazing sounds from the middle band in particular. A great piece to end with.

It was then down to Philip Sparke to separate the bands and he awarded a deserved victory to Whitburn. The difference lay in the quality of sound, the dynamic range and the clarity in the faster playing. Whitburn had that bit extra in these areas, especially in the engine room at the lower end of the band.

Congratulations go to both bands though for providing the audience with great entertainment throughout the entire evening and thank you to both conductors for their great direction and entertaining informative links between pieces.

Lawrence Brown

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