2008 London & Southern Counties Regional Championship - Retrospective: Second Section

18-Mar-2008

Lots of speculation, but it was pretty clear who were the best bands here on the weekend.


Steve Pritchard-Jones, in his summing up at the end of the section, said what a difficult job it had been sorting out the placings.  Whilst he felt the top two bands were fairly easy to pick out, deciding on the positions lower down was a lot harder, and certainly put into question the speculation on theMouthPiece.com and elsewhere that the music was too easy.  

He did explain that he had thought long and hard about the lower placings, being aware of the importance with regard to promotion and relegation, but that it was often a case of weighing up success or failure in the various movements.

Elements

Steve highlighted particular elements that he had been looking for with respect to each movement:  The ‘Prelude’ tended to be very fragmentary, so he was looking for a performance which linked the phrases together, rather than coming across in two-bar chunks; The ‘Romance’ called for expression, with a legato style throughout, whilst the ‘Caprice’ needed to be lively, but not too quick, with a real dance style. 

He warned that some bands who thought they had done well would be surprised, and that he had been after an all-round musical performance, with no over-blowing, and bands playing within their capabilities.

It must be said that we also found it hard to separate the performances in the midfield of this section, with few movements coming over totally error free.  Many euphonium players for instance were distinctly uncomfortable with their short solo in the ‘Romance’, with tuning often being an issue. 

Trombones

Mention has been made elsewhere that there was relatively little for the trombones to do, but, as with much of Kenneth Downie’s writing, he does use them to provide a tonal contrast, and as such, when playing, they needed to produce a clear, strong trombone tone, which added much to the more successful performances. 

Regarding the percussion, and the decision that bands were to disregard the xylophone part (admittedly marked ad lib in the score) bands took to the stage with anything from one to four percussionists, and the amount of the part that actually went in varied greatly from one band to another.

Dubious honour

Epping Forest had the dubious honour of playing first, and despite a few gaps around the stand produced a clean, measured performance that earned them a well deserved 6th place. 

Their sole percussionist was extremely secure and confident, and the two trombones worked well together.  The ‘Romance’ brought some nicely sustained playing, with the horns well balanced, and there was some very neat dovetailing of parts in the ‘Caprice’, with a good sense of fun.

Next came East London Brass, with their two percussionists ensuring that we heard some of the tuned motifs for the first time - the glockenspiel in particular adding a good deal to the effect, if causing a few co-ordination problems, especially when players had their heads stuck in their copies!

The ‘Prelude’ had a good rhythmic feel, and there was some delicate playing by the basses, who did become a little heavy however towards the end of the section.  In the ‘Romance’, the back row entries were a little tentative and there were tuning problems, particularly at the bottom of the range, whilst the euphonium did not feel comfortable, and the horn calls at the end were uncertain and wavering in tone. 

In the ‘Caprice’, the percussion seemed insecure; although it also appeared they did not have a clear view of the conductor.  Despite the basses being a little muddy, on the whole this movement worked well, with some nice sop playing at the end, and they were placed 9th.

Balance problems

Fairlop Brass
fielded four percussionists, and appeared to have a euphonium covering the second baritone part, although it didn’t cause any major balance problems. 

The ‘Prelude’ opened well, with a full, round tone, and bright interjections from the trombones, whilst the confident bass player almost reminded one of Walton’s “Façade” at one point, although the sop and flugel showed weaknesses. 

There was some fine horn playing at the start of the ‘Romance’, with the euphonium keeping nicely under the ensemble when required.  There were a few intonation issues, a little nervousness crept in at the euphonium solo, and the movement as a whole did not seem as well integrated as in some performances.  The side drum and wood block were rather tentative at the start of the ‘Caprice’, and there did not seem to be the sense of fun that the piece really required: 7th place it was.

Slight hiatus

There was a slight hiatus next as Betteshanger Welfare, drawn fourth, failed to appear.  Alder Valley were on stage ready to play, but had an anxious 4-minute wait to meet the requirements before they could start their performance. 

The delay didn’t seem to do them too much harm, as they went on to produce the winning rendition.  There was a little roughness from the cornets in the opening phrase – possibly a touch of nerves in the circumstances – but they soon picked up, and with some delicate playing from the basses, a confident flugel and nicely pointed accents the ‘Prelude’ worked well. 

There were occasional slips in the ‘Romance’, although the overall effect was still very good.  The ‘Caprice’ was notable for the nicely pointed bass line and neat glockenspiel and whilst the descending scales through the band were a little uneven, there were good attempts at playing the required dynamics, an excellent sound to the middle of the band, and a confident finish.

Ware Brass, in company with several bands in this section playing with only three basses, produced a ‘Prelude’ that seemed a little too aggressive, with a couple of slips from cornet and bass, but with a nicely placed euphonium and clean work from the trombones. 

In the ‘Romance’, the flugel did not seem to blend well with the horns and there were intonation problems and the music did not always flow, with rather disjointed melodic lines, and the horn calls and final chord were not properly in tune. 

The ‘Caprice’ brought out their best playing, with a good sense of fun and nothing too heavy and the sop and bass duet was very effective and the confident percussion contributed to a good end to the performance.  10th place seemed about right to us.

Youngest player

Drawn 7th were Chinnor Silver, including in their number a lad on kit who was probably the youngest player in the section.  Having done sterling work throughout the performance, he was unfortunate to lose a stick during the bar of tom-toms towards the end. 

Despite recovering well he was naturally upset afterwards but he need not blame himself – it can happen to anybody, and we’re sure his efforts contributed greatly to their well-deserved 5th place. 

Their ‘Prelude’ showed a good sense of style, relaxed and flowing with close attention to the dynamics, and both glockenspiel and trombone section were very effective.  In the ‘Romance’, they produced a good sustained sound, but there were intonation problems with the back row entries and euphonium, although the handover to the horn at the end of the euphonium solo was neatly taken.  The horn calls at the end were not well balanced, the lower part being much weaker than the upper but the ‘Caprice’ was marked with confident percussion and delicate playing in the solo lines, and excellent dynamics.

Chichester City opened well, with a nice tone, and carefully placed entries from euphoniums and basses. 

The lower bass writing sounded a little muddy, as if they were trying a little too hard, and the ascending scales were not properly together and the 'Romance' was rather disjointed with a few too many rough edges. 

The euphoniums were good, however, and the link to the horn came off neatly.  The flugel player could have been more prominent, seeming to be playing too much into the stand, which made turning to the side in the final bars rather superfluous.  

The ‘Caprice’ featured confident percussion and nicely pointed accents, with the glock producing a greater dynamic range than in most performances although the drummer appeared to get his sticks slightly tangled up in the tom-tom break, which may have unsettled the band as they moved into the finale, which was not wholly convincing.  8th place it was.

Intonation

Drawn 9th, Yiewsley and West Drayton produced a performance that, despite its good intentions, was marred by uncertainties and intonation problems, which resulted in them being placed 12th. 

The ‘Prelude’ started well enough, finely paced and with good basses, but uncertainties were apparent in the cornet line and the basses were too heavy later on.  Although there were good attempts at observing the dynamics in the ‘Romance’, the intonation was very problematic, and there were balance issues, especially in the horns.  Finally, the ‘Caprice’ seemed to present most problems, with intonation at its worst in the chromatic passages, and poor co-ordination towards the end of the movement.

Norfolk Wherry Brass did not get of to a good start, with untidiness creeping in early on and tuning problems. 

The ‘Prelude’ as whole was very scrappy and although the ‘Romance’ started better, with a nice sound from the horns, intonation grew worse.  There was a good build up of intensity in the music, but fluffs in the euphonium and cornet line, and a wavering final chord did not help. The ‘Caprice’ was also rather mixed, with a better start, and neat dovetailing of parts, but there were insecurities in the later solo entries, although things rallied slightly toward the end.  13th and last place it was, which we would have to agree was probably fair.

Interesting

It was interesting to note that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th places went to the bands drawn 11th, 12th and 13th, although we don’t think we need to look for any conspiracy theory, as three good performances just happened to come in sequence. 

The first was Epsom and Ewell, who were awarded 2nd place.  Their ‘Prelude’ was very convincing, with incisive playing from the trombones, and minor slips in the solo lines detracted little from the overall effect, although the dynamic range could have been greater, however, with little contrast between the mf and fff at the end of the movement. 

The ‘Romance’ did not flow as well as some other performances, and the semiquavers in the horns seemed a little rushed, although the overall effect was good despite playing safe with the dynamics at the end.  The ‘Caprice’ brought out their most consistent playing, confident and secure, although 2nd place seemed a little generous to us.

Clean

Grimsdyke Brass
had a clean start to the ‘Prelude’, with a pleasant, well-balanced sound and whilst the euphonium sat nicely on top of the band, the soprano sounded a little strained. 

The movement as a whole had a nice lilt to it, dynamics and accents closely observed, and no-one trying too hard, with a tidy end.  The horns were a little nervous at the start of the ‘Romance’, with intonation problems between them and the flugel, but things soon improved, with excellent euphonium playing and well-balanced horn calls.  The ‘Caprice’ seemed slightly rushed at the start, with the players not always together.  

There were neat entries from the basses, however, and the movement gained in stature and confidence: 3rd place from Steve Pritchard-Jones, but we would have placed them 2nd.

Climb up the sections

Thundersley Brass
has continued their climb through the sections, despite the occasional blip concerning registration issues in the past, and they produced a convincing performance under their new MD, Richard Morris. 

Dynamics in the ‘Prelude’ were nicely controlled, and they had probably the best soprano of the day in Martin Hurrell.  The cornet section as a whole produced a clean, bright sound, and the bass drum strokes at the end of the movement were incisive – the concert bass drum provided was very resonant, and tended to echo, so they seemed to have done the right thing in bringing their own. 

Meanwhile the horns in the ‘Romance’ were smooth and well-sustained, with finely graded dynamics, although there were slips in the solo lines, and the cornet tone was thinner when playing quietly.  The horn calls were well-balanced, but the effect was spoilt when the final chord was not together. 

The ‘Caprice’ started well with a good pace and light approach, that rounded off a well integrated performance, with an excellent duet from sop and bass.  There was a tendency to race, however, and the last section became a little of a scramble.  Nevertheless, it was a well-deserved 4th place in their first contest at the higher level.

Last to play

Last to play were Tilbury, who had an unfortunate delay when the solo cornet music fell from the stand and went under the stage. 

Although one of the staff disappeared into the darkness it was not returned, so they eventually played with the three solo cornet players sharing the one copy.  Despite good work from the trombones, slips in the solo lines unsettled the ‘Prelude’, undermining the ensemble.  The cornets turned away in the quiet passages, but still managed to fall off the notes, and the thundering basses seemed a little out of context. 

The ‘Romance’ was better, although individual parts were too prominent, spoiling the intended effect. The band’s tone was rather thin, and the sound overall was a little cold.  In the ‘Caprice’ the band were too aggressive, lacking the due sense of fun and lightness, and the last section was rather too frantic and rushed.  11th place it was, again about right as far as we were concerned.

Overall, it was an enjoyable afternoon, with no band escaping completely unscathed, having been tested quite severely in the areas of ensemble and style. 

Individual slips seemed less important than the need to produce a convincing, rounded performance, and the two bands who Steve felt did this best, Alder Valley Brass and Epsom & Ewell, will be the ones who will represent the Area at Harrogate.

Peter Bale

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