2008 Welsh Regional Championship - Retrospective: Championship Section

11-Mar-2008

All things must come to an end - from Fidel Castro to Cory's dominance at Swansea as Tredegar topple the Welsh dictators.


Tredegar
We've won the Cup!: Tredegar celebrate on the stage at Swansea

In the end Cory couldn’t do a Fidel Castro and choose the manner of their departure as the dictators of Welsh regional banding. 

After six consecutive victories at the Brangwyn Hall their reign as undisputed champion came to an end as the band that has for close on 20 years been their closest domestic rival took the opportunity to bump them off.

Tredegar became the 2008 Regional Champions and with it they will represent Wales at the 2009 European Championships in Ostend as well as joining their counterparts at the Royal Albert Hall with BTM in October.

Coup d'etat

As coup d’etats go it may not herald an extended period of unbroken supremacy for the Ian Porthouse’s band, but it will have given notice to their Rhondda rivals that they are once again more than capable of beating them. After such a period of one party dominance that can only be good for Welsh banding.

The writing was on the wall for Cory when adjudicator Alan Morrison made his detailed remarks from the stage. He may have worn a slight scowl himself (Cardiff City had beaten his beloved Middlesboro in the FA Cup), but his analysis of the piece and of the standard of the performances gladdened the faces of many in the audience who had thoroughly enjoyed a keenly fought contest.

Bass peddling

Alan pinpointed a number of areas in his detailed précis: the need for a controlled rhythmic base in the opening ‘Overture’, seamless phrasing in the ‘Romance’ and lightness of texture in the ‘Impromptu’. He also highlighted concern over the time given over the turns, and the unnecessary introduction of bass peddling. “Cornet and soprano players would be penalised if they took something up an octave when not written, so why do basses do it? It loses the intended texture and balance of what the composer intended,” he said.

Cory where the most noticeable band to possibly employ the technique on the day (although this was denied later by the MD), and whilst that alone was not the reason why they ended up in 3rd place, it would have seemed a rather unnecessary option for them to take given the quality of their bass end sound.

No doubt

Alan also made sure that the audience were left in no doubt that just because he had conducted the piece, it didn’t mean he was looking for a musical reproduction of his Brighouse performance at Yorkshire the previous week. “It’s not a conducting contest. I have a very open mind when I enter the box and although the piece does lend itself to interpretation my concern was whether or not those interpretations affected the overall performance; some tempos for example lost the flow of the music.”

With that in mind it became clearer to why he picked Tredegar ahead of BTM and Cory, as their compact and detailed reading paid accurate attention to the written tempi and scoring.  BTM under the direction of Graham O’Connor delivered a very straightforward interpretation too, whilst Cory just took a few more liberties with their approach.  A three point winning margin did seem generous though. 

Tredegar’s MD was a little surprised by the winning margin but not by the victory itself. “I felt we were right up there with Cory on the day. They were two very different interpretations and little to choose between the bands, but I was quietly confident we might have had the edge. Three points over BTM was a bit of a surprise, but the win wasn’t as I felt it was a very good performance.”

Persuasive account

The contest had begun with a persuasive account from Northop under the direction of Thomas Wyss, which eventually came 5th. The light ensemble sound brought a cultured air to the reading from the MD (who conducted without a score) and with a set of secure soloists they laid a good marker out for the rest of the field. If it did lack for anything it was the extra depth and projection of sound which was apparent with the top three bands on the day, but it was a fine effort on their first outing back at Championship level here since 2004.

Parc & Dare meanwhile did have a much more robust sound but a lyrical reading from Craig Roberts was undermined by unforced individual and ensemble errors. In fact it was a frustrating performance to listen to – extended periods of quality interspersed by sloppy ensemble and that high error count. Speaking to the MD afterwards he felt the same – a pity as there was a contender in amongst the flotsam and jetsam that consigned them to 6th place.

Real confidence

Tredegar took to the stage buoyed by recent success at the Porthcawl contest and it was evident from the start that they were playing with real confidence under Ian Porthouse.

His neutral interpretation allowed time and space for his impressive team of soloists to shine – most notably Dewi Griffths on principal cornet who took the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ prize and Steve Barnsley on soprano who chirped like a little robin on a starch box in the ‘Romance’.  Some people did question the quickish tempo of the first movement, but it was undoubtedly the ‘Romance’ that set them apart from their rivals – it was very classy stuff.

A final romp through the ‘Impromptu’ was very well handled and by the time the full bodied final chord ended they were a very clear leader and the band to beat.

Much expected

Cwmaman were not going to do that but given the recent circumstances the band has found itself battling against they can take credit for their performance under the direction of Graham Sheppard. It never quite got to grips with the piece technically or musically but there were moments when quality did shine and there was evidence that the good times are not too far away once more. 8th place was a fair return.

Much was expected of Tongwynlais on the weekend given their recent fine form at Butlins, but somehow they never quite feel at home on the Brangwyn Hall stage and once again they failed to produce the performance they knew was within their grasp. 

A lyrical reading from Gareth Pritchard held promise, but a succession of nasty individual errors allied to moments when the sense of rubato nearly lost the band musical flow must have cost dearly in the box. There were some very fine moments and solid solo leads, but the sense of unease never left them and they came home in a disappointing 7th place.

Scene set

The scene was now set for Cory to produce what many expected would be a defining account of ‘Festival Music’ to give them the regional title for a seventh consecutive year. It wasn’t to be.

Alan Morrison alluded perhaps to the reasons why – it did sound very much as if there was some pretty noticeable peddling going on, even if it was denied, and there were occasional moments when the almost flawless patina suffered the occasional scratch or two.

It was still very fine playing though (especially the opening statements of the piece in which you heard every turned note). The ‘Romance’ was perhaps not as persuasive as Tredegar but the technical accomplishment of the ‘Impromptu’ was playing of rare quality; classy, precise and secure.

Nip and tuck

It was nip and tuck for us with Tredegar, but perhaps just had the nod by the narrowest of margins for its execution. Not so in the box though where the strong balances and emphasised detail allied to that perceived depth problem cost them points.

There was plenty of discussion in the hall after Cory had played – with a pretty even spilt between the two top bands, and there was little doubt that at the end of the contest the opinion to who had won still revolved around the pair of heavyweight contenders.

Real merit

Meanwhile Wayne Rushton made the most of limited resources with Wrexham to deliver a decent enough account that was understandably off the pace, before BTM produced a performance of real merit that certainly caught the ear of Alan Morrison. 

Although there were noticeable edges to many of the phrase endings, these were minor complaints in a performance of soloist security and ensemble robustness. Graham O’Connor did what it said on the tin with his interpretation and in response the likes of Ian Roberts on solo cornet and Mark Hutcherson on euphonium produced some of the best lead playing of the entire day.

It never quite had that sparkle that illuminated Tredegar’s middle movement or quite the same detailed brilliance of Cory’s outer sections but overall it was perhaps the most consistent of the three and as such Alan rewarded them with second place.  After a couple of recent blips in form BTM showed here that they are very much a quality outfit.

Sense of purpose

That just left Burry Port under the direction of Phil Bailey. They too have been off form of late, but the signs that their long term rebuilding plans are rooted with real solidity were obvious with fine contributions from the youthful team of soloists and a sense of purpose about the ensemble.

It just tired towards the end when it became scratchy, but the MD kept a tight rein on the dynamics and tempi and it ended with a final well placed flourish to claim 4th spot.

Variable

It rounded off a contest where the overall standard was variable – from the excellent to the mediocre. We felt it was going to be close with Cory just a point ahead for us from Tredegar with BTM a couple more points behind that. After that we went for Northop, Parc & Dare and Burry Port with Tongwynlais, Cwmaman and Wrexham.  

With the contesting action over for the day Bob Childs returned to the stage with the Royal Welsh College of Music Band for a well received mini concert before the announcement of the all important results.

There was of course a deep intake of breath when Cory were announced in third place and a slight Danny La Rue ooh and aah as Tredegar’s winning margin was announced, but they were soon replaced by cheering as the jubilant players of the new 2008 Regional Champions enjoyed a very special moment indeed.  How long they will reign here is anyone’s guess but Welsh banding can take heart that a long period of domestic supremacy has come to an end – even Fidel Castro might agree with that.


Iwan Fox

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