2009 Norwegian National Championships - Elite Section - Set work retrospective

11-Feb-2009

The foundation of Eikanger's 11th National victory came with a bit rococo Arthur Negus would have been proud of...


The foundation for Eikanger’s 11th National victory came on the Friday when they won the set work section of the contest.

Not quite vintage

This wasn’t quite a vintage performance however. Dr Nicholas Childs had to work his troops hard to illicit a rendition of  ‘Rococo Variations’ to set them apart from their rivals.

Knowing perhaps that there was a greater deal of inexperience in the Eikanger ranks than ever before, the MD took few risks. This was an academic approach, cleverly minimising the artistic romanticism that was so much a feature of Manger and Stavanger’s approach. Where they opted for the pumping heart, Eikanger went for the calculating head. 

It worked too – finding favour in the tent from the two judges Cathrine Winnes Trevino and Maurice Hamers (Jan van der Roost was stuck in the snow and didn’t make it to Bergen until the Saturday), who spoke of the quality of sound, balances and clean articulation, rather than overt musicality. 

The MD had worked it all out, weighed up the potential risks and opted for a neutral approach – relying on the band’s impressive technical strengths, rather than its more fragile musical weaknesses. It was an object lesson in how not to lose a contest. 

Impressive as Eikanger were, you sensed that it was not an unbeatable musical performance, but the technical approach was - as both Stavanger and Manger were to find out.

Red blooded style

Manger had opened the contest in red-blooded style and MD, Peter Szilvay opted for the romantic approach – one that however persuasive was always going to have its odd problem or two.

It was an immensely enjoyable reading – full of colour, adventure and vibrant life, but also one that took huge risks in terms of style and execution. For instance, there seemed to be no formal uniformity about the ‘rococo’ approach to the bouncing rhythms at the start (something Eikanger nailed), and whilst you sat back and lapped up the musicality there was a feeling that it was putting Manger’s neck on the block.

So it proved – and whilst we loved it (putting it 2nd) you could hear why it also ended up in 7th place. As a concert performance it was a corker – as a contest rendition it left itself open to harsher judgements.  

Romantic performance

The other performance that opted for romance rather than hard nosed realism came from Stavanger

Allan Withington’s immensely stylish interpretation won over even the coldest of audience hearts (we had it as our leader), but not in the box. For all the lovely lusciousness of it all, it was technically flawed – sloppily so in places.

There was passion aplenty, drama in droves, but errors in areas that hurt. By its end you perhaps wanted to love it more than it may have deserved, especially as the band saved its best playing to the furious fugue, but by then the damage had been done and any chance of overall victory had become slimmer than a local Ryvita cracker.

Eikanger was in pole position.

Little Master

The closest a band came to catching them on the day was when Molde took to the stage under Garry Cutt.

Now the ‘Little Master’ knows just what is required to get this piece to work and work well, and whilst the reading was nigh on the perfect, the execution wasn’t quite of the same class.

The shapely musicality wasn’t a match for the more testosterone fuelled efforts of Stavanger and Manger, whilst the cold ice in the veins wasn’t at the freezing point of Eikanger, but overall the combination still worked wonderfully well – especially with the judges.

Persuasive account

There was also a very persuasive account from Oslo Brass – again not one that perhaps had you on the edge of your seat from start to finish, but one that allowed you to relax and enjoy a musically secure approach.

It was stylish and a touch brave (a bit like the MD’s outfit) – one that started using the head and ended relying on the heart so to speak. It wasn’t always perfect, but on a day when others made too many errors it worked – and worked well.

Not the best

Two bands that didn’t enjoy the best of days were Sandefjord and Jaren Hornmusikkforening.

Sandefjord sounded like a band that is going through an extensive rebuilding phase at the moment.

There were moments when it all came together and it felt at ease, but there were far too many occasions when MD Michael Antrobus perhaps opted for an ambitious approach that bordered on the self indulgent. 

The band just didn’t have the ability to respond, and by its end a hotchpotch of styles, ideas and textures didn’t work at all.

So too Jaren in a performance that so reflected the MD’s idiosyncrasies, that as enjoyable as it was, was never going to make anymore of an impression than the 8th place it eventually came.

The musical approach was one to admire without doubt, but the lack of basic technical discipline at times was so lax that it took the gloss off quicker than someone spilling drops of sulphuric acid on a piece of old rococo style Chippendale furniture.

Puzzled and bewildered

Oslofjord meanwhile produced a performance that left you somewhat puzzled and bewildered.

A contest stage isn’t perhaps the best place to try and go all ‘artistic’ when the basics of your musical armoury are not in place. As much as you admired the bravery of the approach, you just knew it wasn’t going to work – and sixth place was a bit fortunate to say the least.

Nearly a cracker

Much was expected of Krohnengen before a note had been blown. More than a few people we met had told us to keep our ears open to the band under Ray Farr, so when they took to the stage it seemed we could be in for a real treat.

It very nearly was too.

Ray Farr really produced a true rococo feel to the music – rich musicality allied to precise appreciation of style from the start. We also got to hear true excerpts from Ball to Heaton too, but just when it appeared it would be heading for the top of the leaderboard, they lost their nerve as after a couple of noticeable errors, confidence seemed to erode and a roughness to the playing spoilt the musical picture.

It was very nearly a cracker.

Emotionless

That just left Ila from the number 2 spot, who never got to grips with the music from the word go. We don’t know why, but this was a cold and emotionless performance (as cold as a dead man’s hand we said on the day).

The lack of character and style seemed puzzling as the band could so obviously play the piece, but whereas Eikanger’s academic approach worked and worked so well, this bit of academic research didn’t muster a C+ and they could have had little complaint in ending up in 9th spot.

All to play for

With ten varying performances to savour, we opted for Stavanger from Manger and Eikanger, with Krohnengen and Olso as our top five – the judges opting for Eikanger, Molde, Oslo, Krohnengen and Stavanger.

It was all to play for the next day.

Iwan Fox

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