2008 Norwegian National Championships - Retrospective: Second Division

13-Feb-2008

The first contest of the championships provided an excellent aperitif for the main courses to come - and a fine winning performance too.


Second Division winners
Eyes wide shut: Only one will believe their eyes when they open with the annoucnement of the results (it was the lady on the left)

The first contest of the 2008 championships took place on the Friday morning in the Grieghallen with the 13 bands of the Second Division. 

As an aperitif to the main set work contest of the Elite bands later in the day it proved to be great entertainment, even if the overall standard of performances did vary somewhat from the tremendous to the distinctly average. That made the job of choosing the winners a bit easier for the two adjudicators Paul Farr and Bjorn Sagstad.

Paul told 4BR that he was impressed by the overall standard of the performances on the day, although he did think there were one or two bands that did bite off a bit more than they could comfortably chew.

Impressive standard

The winners Orskog Brass conducted by John Hudson were excellent, and their performance of ‘Dances & Alleluias’ was a deserving winner, full of colour, good balance and deftness of touch, with ex Brighouse soprano player Nigel Fielding on fine form. 

Paul was impressed by the contributions made by the baritone, euphonium and solo cornet but also recognised that the horrendously difficult cornet solo in the final quarter of the piece had been subtly broken between the cornet and the soprano.

Whilst agreeing with the overall musical impression, that piece of cooperation didn’t really work and could have cost the band dearly if their rivals had pushed them closer to the winning line. In the end, although it would have lost them a couple of points it didn’t put the result in doubt and congratulations must go to John Hudson for the way in which he drew a very persuasive musical picture on a piece that not too long ago was testing some of the best British bands at the English Nationals Championships.

Another impressive piece of direction came from another Englishman – although this time from someone with much less grey hair than John.

Simon Dobson led Kopervik Musikklag into second place with a finely structured account of ‘Tallis Variations’ that was also colourful, balanced and containing that essential essence of understated reserve, especially in the final section of the work.

It was a striking piece of direction (as well as sartorial elegance) – something that certainly impressed Paul Farr sat watching and listening in the judges box, who told 4BR that the ability of the young man to keep control and create atmosphere was a feature of the performance. Even with the odd bit of tiredness creeping in towards the end it was a fine account of a work that caught out many bands and MDs on the weekend.

The other band to make a real impression on the judges was Alexander Brass conducted by Sverre Stakson Olsrud, who produced a worthy if somewhat less colourful account of ‘Nautilus’ by Martin Ellerby to claim third place.

It was as Paul Farr told 4BR, solid enough playing, just lacking for that touch of polish that was to be heard in the two bands that beat them – especially in the dynamic range which was comfortable rather than striking in execution. 

Other contenders

These three bands were some way in front of the rest of the field of contenders, although there was much to admire in the performances of the three other bands that filled the top six placings come the announcement of the results.

Stangaland directed by Reid Gilje delivered a powerful account of ‘The Forest of Dean’ to claim fourth spot, whilst Brottum Brass conducted by Erling Johan Myserth were also good value for joint fifth place with their slightly ambitious account of ‘Trittico’, which just struggled in the final quarter – something that Paul Farr felt may just have cost them the chance of finishing any higher. Finishing on the same points as them were Hornokesteret Stavanager directed by Clive Zwanswiniski with a brave old effort on ‘Firestorm’ that just didn’t have enough spark to really capture prize winning fire. 

With the remaining contenders we were at times wondering whether or not some of the conductors really did have a great understanding of the music that they had chosen for their bands to play, especially when the technical achievements far outweighed the musical ones.

Bottom places

The bands that filled the bottom three places in particular all just about got to grips with their selections on a technical level, but musically they were different to say the least.

Vennesla Kristine Brass’s ‘Connotations’ was a case in point – technically fairly secure, but musically as odd as a Norwegian belly dancer. You admired the sense of adventure, but somehow it just didn’t sound right. So too Follesso with a ‘Plantagenets’ that had more in common with Viking history than it did the War of the Roses – both conductors perhaps need to find out a bit more about Edward Gregson’s early music for brass band.

Tysnes but in a brave enough account of ‘Diversions’ that was just in need of a bit more technical security and precision whilst Gjesdal delivered an authentic sounding ‘The Present Age’ that just lacked for a touch more cultured execution in its phrasing. It was a bit too bold in places and lost its Salvationist sense of warmth at crucial times.  

That left Skui under Michael Antrobus and a decent performance of ‘Connotations’ that in direct contrast to Vennesla was played with the right style and just about the right amount of technical security, and Gjallarhon under the neat direction of Espen Westbye who delivered a well maintained if slightly under powered ‘Forest of Dean’.

Overall though an enjoyable contest won in some style by an old head conducting a new piece with youthful vigour ahead of a young head on an older piece with youthful ambition. Can’t ask for more than that can you now?

Iwan Fox

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