2006 Norwegian National Championships - Retrospective: Fourth Division

16-Feb-2006

There was a great battle in the open between 15 enthusiastic bands. The problem was that the other 16th was in a class of its own and shouldn't have been there.


We keep harping on at 4BR how the Fourth Section is the real authentic delight of any contest, and to be fair it usually is. What does make it a delight is that the bands are all very much of the same standard, and so it can be difficult to really pick out the winners in what is usually a well matched field of competitors.

Unfortunately here, due to a very strict interpretation of the registration rules Kopervik Musikkorps won a contest that they shouldn't have really been in. By all accounts they missed last years National because someone hadn't sent their entry form in on time in the First Section and as a result they had to drop down to the Fourth as a punishment and start the long haul process back to whence they came before they had a touch of administration amnesia.

That may on paper (sorry about the pun) seemed like the fair thing to do, but in reality it totally messed up a contest here and made it into a race for second place. It was bit like Chelsea being asked to play in the Doctor Martins League Cup (our Norwegians readers will forgive us for using such a British comparison) or Tiger Woods being relegated to play in the local golf club Texas Scramble because he forgot to sign his card. 

Still. Rules are rules, and Kopervik took their punishment in the only way they knew how – by giving a very high class account of ‘Voyage of Discovery' under the direction of Selmer Simonsen that would be hard to be bettered by any band at the UK Regional Championships this year. Selmer is known to the UK as the man who has done a fair bit of playing with the YBS Band, and has been getting conducting tuition from Professor David King no less. He was also the man that Russell Gary made a point of thanking for the amount and quality of the preparation work he put into Stavanger's attempts to win the Elite Section. He is a very talented, if unassuming sort of guy. 

As for his band? Well next year they will be in the Third Section, and it will take one heck of a band to beat them there as well, whilst the euphonium player who won the soloists prize wouldn't have been out of place in the Elite Section.

With the contest as such a race for second place (a bit like the Premiership in Britain really) there was the opportunity to hear whether or not the overall standard of the bands at this level has progressed in any way since we first came over here in 2003.

The answer? Yes and no. Technically the bands here are much better than even a couple of years ago and the vast majority wouldn't be out of place playing in the Third or even Second Sections in the UK. Musically though it is a different matter, and as could be seen from the selections made by all 17 competitors, they believe that it is the more modern repertoire that holds the key to their future development, rather than pieces from the past.

This is all well and good, but it has meant that very few bands at this level can play softly. Tuning is pretty good for the most part, because they are not playing quiet enough to test themselves to the full, whilst there is a harshness (especially with cornet players) in the tone that has certainly come about by trying to improve the technical aspects of their playing without paying enough attention to the fundamental basics – such as producing a nice sound.

A number of bands here do contain older players, or former players from higher grade bands who are taking it easy, but perhaps the fault lies with the organisers in not trying to encourage the bands in the right direction.  Own choice selections, say from a given decade may be a way forward or even asking the bands to play three verses of a hymn tune might encourage a more mellow, slightly fuller sound. It is exciting of course to hear bands having a real good go at some ambitious choices, but it must not be allowed to spoil what is the essence of what makes a brass band what it is – its sound (and we are not talking Klang (!) here either). 

Still, the contest had much to commend and especially the performances of the bands who judges Arnfinn Dalhaug and Geir Ulseth placed in the top six.

There was for instance a spirited performance from IMI Brass directed by Per Erik Petersen of Dudley Bright's lovely ‘To Serve and to Save' which gave them second place, whilst third placed Rosendal Musikklag conducted by Jan Magne Olsen give it a decent shot on Edward Gregson's ‘Essay for Brass Band'. Is it really that long ago that this was used in the Championship Section at the Regionals in the UK?

Both these performances had merit, but both perhaps were played to the very edge of the bands technical and musical abilities. Something a little less ambitious may have showcased their talents better, and it said a great deal that the prize for the best section in the contest was awarded to the percussionists of IMI Brass on the Dudley Bright work. That should tell you something.

Frei Hornmusikk under Stein Age Sorlie took fourth spot with a nice romp through ‘Inspiration' by Jan de Haan, which possibly didn't quite live up to its moniker, whilst two contrasting performances of Philip Sparke's ‘Kaliedoscope' – Five Variations on a Brugg Song' saw Grenland Brass directed by Rune Hansen and Skeie Glad Brass conducted by Einar Maeland come fifth and joint sixth. That was taken by Hordvik Musikklag under the baton of Knut Emil Mjos for their performance of ‘Triptych for Brass Band' also by Philip Sparke (who must enjoy the royalty cheques each year after these championships!)

Behind these it was a question of taste really, with the next five or six performances all much of a muchess. It was hard in fact to disagree with the judges assessments as we couldn't really place the bands from 8th place to 13th in any distinct order. 

Brummund-Nordaasen Musikkforening took 8th with their performance of ‘A Mendip Celebration', whilst Lalm Musikkforening took 9th with their two accounts of Edward Gregson's old stomper ‘March Prelude' complete with neat cornet and soprano and Torstein Aagaard Nilsen's clever ‘Vikingkirken'.

Lismarka/Mesnali tried their best to overcome the tricky ‘A Celtic Suite' in coming joint 10th with Kjolsdale Musikklag who produced a slightly strained account of ‘The Four Noble Truths'.

Meanwhile joint 12th place went to Hetlevik Musikklag and Rudsbygd Brass, who performed slightly wayward accounts of ‘A Malvern Suite' and ‘Schattdorf Impressions' by Darrol Barry and ‘Country Scenes' by Goff Richards respectively.  

That just left the bottom four bands, all of whom brought a great deal of enthusiasm and raw talent to the stage, and all certainly enjoyed themselves and the experience.

Eigersund Blaseorkester directed by Dag Voigt tried their best on ‘A Malvern Suite' without possibly knowing where the Malverns where geographically or musically, whilst Kaland/Lysefjorden Musikklag may want to look at the AA map of the North West of England after their valiant attempt at ‘A Salford Sinfonietta'.

Sauda Musikklag certainly enjoyed themselves on their twin attempts at ‘Hinode' and 'Adventures in Brass', whilst Kvikne Hornmusikk found Philip Sparke's ‘Orient Express' more inclined towards the Agatha Christie version than may have been helpful.

Iwan Fox

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