2007 West of England Championship - Second Section retrospective

15-Mar-2007

Once again Helen Perkin’s ‘Carnival’ proved to be a stern test for the bands in the Second Section.


In fact there were some performances that were more Dorothy Perkins in approach than John Ireland's former muse, as time and again the MDs failed to appreciate the need for precision and style in the detailed score.

Ocean
Banner Boy: Ocean Brass get their hands on the top prize

Overall it was a contest that only occasionally rose above the average with the winners and runners up the two that really captured the essence of the Carnival inspiration throughout the three cleverly constructed movements.

That was somewhat difficult to understand as technically the work was well within everyone's capability. It may be a dated work stylistically, but that was no excuse for the amount of aggression displayed in trying to capture the vibrant nature of the first movement ‘Cavalcade', the lack of musical flow and Iberian relaxation in the second movement ‘Pavane' and the sense of fun in the final ‘Burlesque'.

Adjudicator Lloyd Landry was spot on when he stated that it was still a very interesting and difficult piece even after all these years. He was also spot on with his analysis of each movement; from the need to appreciate the detail in the opening section, to the sense of style required in the second and the ability to make the music come to life in the third.  The winner stood out he said, but even though they got near to the piece they never quite got on top of it. It was a compact, precise and very accurate synopsis.

The winners for both he and fellow adjudicator Stephen Tighe was Ocean Brass under the direction of Nick Grace. It was hard to disagree after they delivered a performance that had detail and precision in the ‘Cavalcade', a nice sense of slightly emphasised style in the ‘Pavane' and a safe but vibrant feel of the fun fair in the ‘Burlesque'. It did have its moments of unease however, with some tuning issues at the very opening and some annoying little blips and clips in the exposed second section, but overall it was a performance of considerable merit which deserved its reward.

Ocean
Pinch perfect: Ocean's MD Nick Grace picks out a winner.

Bandmaster Wayne Lander told 4BR that they were delighted that all their recent hard work had paid off, and even though the MD was not on hand to take part in the celebrations (he was travelling back to Cyprus to join back up with his army regiment) it wasn't going to stop them from fully enjoying their victory. There was a great atmosphere within the band Wayne told us, and you could see just that as they made their way to the bar in the Riviera Centre to celebrate well into the night.

Joining them in Harrogate were the other band to really capture all the elements of the score as a coherent whole, even though they too had their moments of discomfort.

Portishead under the direction of a svelte like Ian Holmes were excellent value for their runners up place, and we thought they may just have pipped Ocean to the title. Theirs was a confident and vibrant performance that had all the necessary brio in the ‘Cavalcade', a fine sense of Iberian relaxation in the ‘Pavane' and a neat appreciation of the fun side of things in the ‘Burlesque'.  It was not without error but it was neatly packaged in such a persuasive manner that it fully deserved its reward too.

Portishead
Over the moon: Portishead claim their Harrogate place

Their Chairman Jasper Lewis told 4BR that they too owed much to the hard work put in by the players as well as the excellent direction of their MD. Fund raising was to start on the Monday morning as soon as they finished celebrating their ‘over the moon' qualification.

With so many of the bands finding problems emphasising the difference in the styles required in each of the three movements the obvious short fallings between the bands that filled both the remaining top six places and the rest of the results table was quite marked. Again it was difficult to disagree with the findings of the adjudicators, who, for the second time on the weekend produced a set of results that found favour with just about everyone we spoke too.

Third place was eventually claimed by Filton Concert Brass (we had them in 4th) conducted by Bryn James. They produced a confident performance that just fell away a little in the ‘Pavane'.  The two outer movements were well constructed and delivered with precision and sense of style, but just lacked consistency in that middle section, and that cost them a finals place. It was a good account, well directed though.

Filton
Following the right direction: Bryn James leads Filton into the prizes

The other top six performances came from Phoenix Brass (Crewkere) under Paul Slator, Soundhouse Brass conducted by Mike Faro and Michelmersh Silver headed by Lance Buchart. Each had much to commend, although it was a question of mixed consistency throughout the three movements that meant they missed out on a trip to Harrogate.

Phoenix put up the first real marker of the contest. From the number 3 draw they produced a confident opening ‘Cavalcade' followed by a slightly uncomfortable ‘Pavane' and neatly controlled ‘Burlesque', that perhaps kept something back too much in reserve. It was a pretty good performance nonetheless (we had them 6th) and if they had just let their hair down at the end they may have just squeezed into the qualification places.

Phoenix
Looking the part: Phoenix make it into the prizes

Soundhouse appeared to be heading for a qualification place after an excellent opening section, but a pretty average ‘Pavane' which had noticeable errors cost them dearly as the final 'Burlesque' was full of fun and games. We had them 3rd overall but you could see why the judges just felt it didn't quite have that consistency of approach to place it higher.

Soundhouse
All together now: Soundhouse claim fifth place

The final top six place was taken by Michelmersh Silver conducted on this occasion by Lawrence Butchart in place of Melvin White who it had been reported had been taken ill (Thankfully it was nothing too serious). An up tempo ‘Cavalcade' was full of the required brio but the over slow tempo of the ‘Pavane' robbed the music of flow and placed extra pressure on the soloists which cost them dearly. A fine recovery in the ‘Burlesque', again taken at a speed that revealed both clarity and fun put them back on track, but that over slow middle section was their undoing.

Michelmersh
Eyes on the MD: Michelmersh's MD keeps his eyes in the right place

After the top six the standard did fall away – quite appreciably in places. If there was an Achilles heel in nearly all of the performances that came out of the prizes it was the way in which the MDs approached the ‘Pavane' – or in many cases, how they totally misunderstood the need to maintain the musical flow of the music. Even though marked circa 54-60 crotchet beats some MDs interpretation of this was for it to be played at the speed of an Antarctic glacier. The results were horrendously predictable.

Gillingham Imperial claimed 7th place with a performance that featured the best soprano playing of the day – clean and very tuneful, especially in the ‘Pavane'.  The ‘Cavalcade' was perhaps a touch aggressive in approach whilst the ‘Pavane' did feature some good individual playing also contained some poor ensemble work as well. The final ‘Burlesque' was bold and a touch brash but by then the damage had been done.

Just behind them came Bristol East under the direction of Roy Curran who many we spoke to thought was the most musically coherent performance of the day. That may be so but it also contained far too many nasty errors and some grating tuning, so even though it may have deserved to be placed higher they could have no real cause for complaint.

So too Lydmet Lydney who benefited from a neat sense of style from MD Colin Hogg but whose performance was bedevilled in each of the movements by problems with tuning and small but annoying clips and unforced blobs.

These were the last two performances that really had something about them and even though the rest had moments and movements that caught the right style, they were hamstrung by too many basic problems – especially with tuning and the lack of musical flow in that terribly exposed ‘Pavane'.

Torbay opened the contest with a fine ‘Cavalcade' but that was all their musical eggs in one basket and thereafter it fell away with a ‘Pavane' lacking style and a scrabble of a ‘Burlesque'. Shrewton meanwhile could have come much higher if they had delivered their ‘Pavane' with anything resembling the same sense of style and approach of the two outer movements. Why the MD chose such a slow tempo was beyond us – it was deathly slow and as a result killed off their chances.

St Stythians meanwhile rounded off the contest with a performance that started well enough and then committed musical suicide in the ‘Pavane' with a tempo that just made no sense at all. It was a pity as they performed a vibrant ‘Burlesque,' but it did make you wonder why the marking of Lento is treated by so many MDs in such a depressingly slow witted manner.

Finally South Molton Town who had their moments in the two outer movements with a fine tenor horn and baritone but were killed off by the complete lack of musical flow in the ‘Pavane'. Someone has to finish last, but we are sure they will return stronger next year whatever section they are in.

Overall then a contest that had its moments of good playing, especially from the two qualifiers but once again revealed that Miss Perkin's crafty and under rated test piece was still more than capable of smacking a few bums even 50 years after it was written.

Iwan Fox

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