2006 European Brass Band Championships - B Section retrospective

3-May-2006

The B Section once more produced a winning performance of the rarest class. It was a fantastic musical experience for everyone there, but it did make it a bit of a problem for the contest.


Anyone who had been in Groningen in 2005 had an insight into the level of performance that could come the audience's way from the Austrian outfit Brass Band Oberösterreich. For those who were watching and listening for the first time, they will remember Saturday morning for a long time to come and will want to savour the performance again and again on the forthcoming CD and DVD releases.

Buchegger
Hannes Buchegger enjoys the winning feeeling once more with Florian Klingler and Irish mascot

For any concert promoters looking to put bums on seats at an event, the Austrian band deserve serious consideration; they blend high quality music-making together with entertainment and they have the capabilities to tailor their programmes to any specific occasion.

Their level of performance on the day meant that the Austrians won by five clear points, and its not being disrespectful to any other band in the contest, but it could and should have been an even bigger gap.  As brilliant as Brass Band Oberösterreich were, from this reviewers perspective, one can only have sympathy for the other competing bands such was the gulf in class as the contest wasn't a level plain field – in fact it was more of a ski slope.

Hans Gansch
Hans Gansch wows the audience with his brand of brilliance

The point has to be made that the winners were far too good for the section as a whole. They really should compete in the Championship Section – food for thought for the band and those who make the decisions within EBBA, although the band has made it clear that due to their personnel make up (they include many of the finest professional musicians from Austria and Germany), they have no appetite or enthusiasm for playing extended brass band test pieces. One of their most respected members who listened to the own choice works from the bands later in the day just shook his head and wondered where the music was.

The ‘B' Section contest isn't just about performing a test piece, it's an own choice programme of around twenty minutes of which the set work is an integral part.  This year's set work came from the pen of Elaine Agnew and was entitled ‘Little Christmas' – the title referring to the events of the 6th January 1839 when a storm occurred in Ireland.  Elaine's music provides plenty of opportunity for ad-lib interpretations (mainly in the percussion section) depicting the events of the day and was a stern test for the bands with four different interpretations to be heard with the finest performance coming from the winners.

The quirks of the draw meant that it was Brassband Oberösterreich from Austria who was drawn to play last.  It was noticeable that the hall had filled up in anticipation of the band's performance and as soon as the band commenced their opening number (Toccata E Fantasia), chosen to demonstrate the enormous amount of talent within the band the audience were pinned back in their seats.

Having performed the most persuasive interpretation of the test piece, that was full of dramatic contrast and full of imagination by the MD and his players, soprano player, Florian Klingler produced some supreme playing in Sparke's ‘Capriccio'. If the audience thought that was impressive, their jaws literally hit the floor as Hans Gansch stepped forward to give a snorter of a performance on trumpet in ‘Born on the 4th of July'. It was mind blowing brilliance.  Victory was long since secured but the band once again showed versatility in ‘Funky Brass' a brilliant showcase where the players could show off their awesome versatility. Victory completed win number six at this event for conductor Hans Buschegger. It may have been easy, but by heck, he gave us all a right royal treat.

Torshavn Brass Band from the Faroe Islands will have no doubt been delighted to have been placed second in a performance that started poorly but got stronger as it went along.  Ove Olson's band opened up with a rather lifeless interpretation of ‘Candide Overture', closely followed by the test piece.

They seemed at their most comfortable with Aagaard-Nilsen's ‘Artic Funk' and two movements from ‘Hymn of the Highlands' with some nice euphonium playing in ‘Summer Isles' although ‘Dundonnell' seemed to stretch them a little bit. They were well worthy of second place on the day though.

The representatives from Ireland both gave commendable but varied performances, and you can't question the level of commitment on show.

Laganvale Band under Ernest Ruddock played well to come in third place.  They took a while to settle and seemed a little tense in the opening ‘Prelude on Tallis', but their finest moments came from their soprano player in ‘Gethsemane' who produced a very high class performance indeed.  Having given what was the most convincing performance (at that point) of the set work, the Northern Irish band gave to steady performances of music brought into mainstream brass band circles by YBS, of 'Vitae Lux' and 'Shine as the Light'.

Arklow Shipping Silver Band under John Bonner had the opportunity to open the B Section and they seem to overstretch themselves a little in Philip Sparke's ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud' and were a little in awe of the set work, 'Little Christmas'.  They did relax though and the bands euphonium player demonstrated plenty of control in his performance of the Irish tune ‘Carrickfergus' and the band really did enjoy themselves in the Queen classic, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody' to round off a set of works that got better as they went along.

This was a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours on Saturday morning; the winners were fantastic and it would be interesting to see how the band would fair in the higher section, let alone a contest such as Brass in Concert?

As one seasoned campaigner said afterwards about the winners; ‘You'll be lucky if you hear playing of that standard this afternoon in the Championship Section' – they weren't far wrong either, and if they appear in Birmingham in 2007 in what ever section, make sure you listen. It's a real musical experience, it really is.

Malcolm Wood

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