2006 Scottish Regional Championships - Second Section retrospective

17-Mar-2006

The Scottish bands here found Voyage of Discovery much to their liking and there were two outstanding performances that caught the judges ears - but were they the same two as 4BR?


Our retrospective look at the Second Section pre-contest predictions were that Howard Snell's ‘Images of the Millennium' would most probably prove beyond the capabilities of bands at this level.
 
City of Discovery
Read the small print - City of Discovery are the Scottish Second Section Champions!

Where as in other regions so far we have been unfortunately proved right, on this occasion the soothsayers got it wrong - and well wrong at that!

At least half of the bands on show here tackled the challenges of his piece with real vigour, no little skill and could retire to the bar glowing with pride from their efforts. In fact the entire field gave it their all and, although a few casualties fell along the way, Second Section banding in Scotland can justifiably claim to be in the rudest of rude health.
 
Adjudicator Colin Hardy, summing up on behalf of both judges (John Maines had an important engagement with a bacon butty at this stage, being back in the box for the Third Section immediately after the results) avoided being drawn into the debate over the merits of choosing 'Images' as the test-piece.

He did however consider it to be a very difficult piece of music to perform at any level of banding, but felt that several bands had more than risen to the challenge to put in strong performances. The judges had been highly impressed by some super band playing and in particular by some superb soprano cornet playing. They were in complete agreement over the results.

Quite rightly Colin stated that two of the performances were outstanding and in their opinion both bands would be serious contenders at the Finals on these showings. In their remarks they had been fairly critical of bands at the lower end of the results - but that's the nature of banding. 4BR concurred entirely with the judge's views - it's just that we didn't pick out the same 2 bands - and that's also the nature of banding!

No real quibble with the results though - the two qualifiers, City of Discovery and Barrhead Burgh, both put in performances of real merit. 
 
And what of the test piece? ‘Images of the Millennium' was certainly one for the purist rather than the typical brass band enthusiast. Leading aficionados of the Scottish scene, including a couple of highly respected conductors, expressed disappointment to 4BR about the suitability of the music for this contest and the sparsely populated hall throughout perhaps told its own story. It has to be said though that the bands set about the task with no lack of enthusiasm and provided a cracking contest, so perhaps the Music Panel were right all along?
 
City of Discovery Band from Dundee certainly sound like a combination who are going places. Under the experienced Bruce Fraser and playing number 4 they got off to a cracking start with a big, bold sound and lovely flowing style to their opening Scherzo.

The band was well balanced and met the technical challenges of this difficult piece although a ragged trombone entry at the opening of the Nocturne detracted slightly from the excellent play of the flugel and bass soloists. This though was a well-played movement with the soprano cornet highly impressive throughout.

In his score notes, composer Howard Snell describes the final movement 'Odyssey' as a journey through 'conflict, struggle and turmoil on its way to release, resolution and finally to triumph'. City of Discovery opted for a very sedate tempo from score mark C to J, which for us resulted in a loss of the essence of the composer's ideas. There wasn't much wrong with the playing but it didn't seem to make musical sense. Overall though this was a fine showing from a well directed band and 1st place from the judges. We had them 3rd.        
 
We opted for Barrhead Burgh under the excellent direction of Chris Bradley who presented a tidy, balanced performance throughout.

There was an attention to detail here which no other band matched and dynamic contrasts and observance of note markings were keenly observed. If it was on the part they played it. Simple really.

A slight quibble would be the relatively brisk tempo adopted in the Nocturne which gave the music a feel of constantly pushing forward rather than allowing some time and space for individual expression. The final Odyssey was excellent and, for us, really captured the composer's ideas. The winners for us by a margin, but 2nd from the judges. A trip to Harrogate and promotion back to the 1st Section at first time of asking hopefully won't have upset them too much.
 
Selkirk Silver
under Dick Duff were delighted with their 3rd slot judging from the reaction in the hall at results time. Theirs was another top-notch performance from a band with a number of excellent individual performers - most notably the soprano cornetist who was superb from start to finish.

This was a performance that, after a few intonation problems early on, seemed to gather momentum and finished splendidly. Well judged tempos throughout allowed the band to put on a performance of real note. 2nd for us but 3rd from the men who mattered most.
 
Before Jedforest Instrumental got underway we had a comical interlude with the gong being belted out. It made one wonder if this was to be a J. Arthur Rank show (and no – that isn't meant to be rhyming slang either). What we got was a pretty healthy sounding band that unfortunately didn't quite get to grips with the technical demands of 'Images'.

The individual error count was high. There were some good sounds at times, notably the Euphs and Baris in the Nocturne but too often it felt like a struggle. Once more though we heard a soprano player at the top of his game. 4th from the judges, we had them 7th. 

Shotts St Patrick's found favour and 5th place from the judges although in our view it was a mixed performance which opened well, lost its way somewhat in the Nocturne and opening section of the Odyssey but recovered to end strongly. 10th place for us.

Meanwhile Croy Parish we thought put in a pretty decent show that started well, held together through the Nocturne but tired and lost quality in the final Odyssey. 6th from the adjudicators and 9th for us.

Dalkeith & Monktonhall were another band with a mightily impressive opening but were unable to sustain their early qualities to the end.  Nonetheless, we liked lots of this and, with excellent soloists on show in the Nocturne, we placed them 4th. 7th from the adjudicators.
 
Annan Town under David Shanks put in a strong show with excellent musical interpretation and soloists who performed well. It did tire somewhat during the Odyssey but this was a fine show with good balance and accuracy although the soprano did find some of the higher passages a stretch too far on the day. 5th from us but 8th from the men in the box.

St Ronan's drew the dreaded no.1 and set the mark for a high quality contest. Lots to be pleased about here - well controlled, good dynamic contrasts, an atmospheric Nocturne and another soprano cornet who could be proud of their efforts.

It did tire badly towards the conclusion, particularly in the bass end of the band. We thought 6th, the officials 9th.

Clydebank Burgh opened with a quick Scherzo that although spirited in style was not always rhythmically accurate and lacked dynamic contrast, whilst the band sounded top heavy at times. An excellent flugel solo in the Nocturne was spoiled somewhat by mispitching in the other solo lines. The Odyssey had the feel of a journey the band wanted to end quickly. 8th from us and 10th from the judges was about right.
 
Second on, St David's Brass opened with a Scherzo which sounded heavy and flat-tongued, it needed a lighter feel although we heard some good bass work. The Nocturne presented real difficulties with balance and intonation problems apparent throughout. The Odyssey was pretty loose in the early stages although the band did rally to put in a strong and impressive close. 11th from the judges and we agreed.

Last up Tayport Instrumental set off at a very sedate tempo which did not really do the music justice. A pretty high individual error count was also apparent. A rather subdued Nocturne followed which, although it captured something of the atmospheric quality of this music, had a very wobbly conclusion. The Odyssey found the band tiring a long way from home. 12th from us and the judges.
 
So there we have it. A terrific contest in many ways and it's a pity there weren't more in attendance to witness it. City of Discovery and Barrhead Burgh can head south to the finals in September full of confidence and with genuine prospects of success.

David Crookston

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