2009 Norwegian National Championships - Elite Section - Own choice retrospective

11-Feb-2009

It was still up for grabs on the Saturday in Bergen - but an Eikanger 'Make Over' settled things once again.


Less than 24 hours later and the first band was taking to the stage for the climax of the whole Norwegian Championships – the own choice selections.

The draw had been fairly kind to the main protagonists and so it was Oslofjord Brass and Armin Renggli who kicked things off with ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’.

Better performance

This was a much better performance than the previous day with plenty of atmosphere created in a broadly spaced reading.

It never quite captured the blood and guts feel at times, especially the great monster sea battle, but overall it was a decent account – although not enough to have made more of a mark than its eventual 8th place.

Gamble

Manger really gambled with ‘Troglodyte Transition’ by Craig Farr – a high risk strategy that may have sounded an attractive proposition when first muted, but was sure to leave the band open to potential problems once played on stage.

So it proved – although it was a difficult piece to assess without the benefit of a score. Despite its obvious modernistic traits we had been here before – there wasn’t anything really new or ground breaking about the oblique, aleatoric sounding writing.

There was also a sense that the ‘transition’ as such wasn’t entirely clear either: You were left thinking - from cave dweller to what exactly? It sounded as if it was a move just a few rungs up the housing ladder rather than a complete transition from hole in the wall to country mansion.

Still it was a risk worth taking for a band much stronger in ensemble than in its individual parts and 4th place was about right on the day (we had them 3rd).

Confidence required

Next up were Sandefjord and for a second they produced a performance that had far too many basic flaws in its execution to have come any higher than it eventually did in 10th.

‘Tristan Encounters’ is a piece that requires confidence, and whilst the ensemble work had quality, it was the exposed lines – the cadenzas especially saw them falter – and from then on it was hard work.

Slow walk

The slow walk onto the stage has become something of a contesting cliché for Eikanger – we have seen a pension queue in a post office move faster – but it does signify a certain amount of bravado confidence.

It wasn’t misplaced either on ‘Extreme Make Over’, which was a crafty old choice by Dr Childs to showcase ensemble brilliance rather than moments of individual heroism.  

It was the five man (or should that be teenage) strong percussion team that stole the show – a display of virtuosity that exotically coloured the whole piece without ever submersing it in volume. The opening quartet was solid and unpretentious, but from then on the performance grew in confidence – right through to the huge ending, which brought the audience to its feet.

It wasn’t perfect by any means, but certainly exciting, robust and classy – and more than good enough to seal victory on the day and the contest as a whole. It was well deserved.

High risk strategy

Like Manger, Krohnengen employed a high risk strategy, that if it had worked as they would have hoped, may well have propelled the band higher up the prize list than 7th on the day and 6th overall.

This was the true Downie ‘Concerto for Band’ – not the musically calorific ‘lite’ version used at the Nationals in London, and the piece was revealed as a much more comprehensively coherent work in the process.

It was also revealed to be even harder than the ‘lite’ version too – although it was the same opening movement that caused Krohnengen’s downfall as it had to many a band at the Royal Albert Hall.

Without the plethora of mistakes, errors and slips the band could have come higher as the rest of the piece was so well shaped and delivered. With them though, every player and the MD must have known their chances were blown.

Ground to make up

Unbeknown to them Stavanger had a great deal of ground to make – too much in fact even if they had performed at the very top of their game. They didn’t.

Allan Withington drew some astonishingly beautiful music from ‘Revelations’ – especially in the lyrical sections, but all that was smudged by sloppy errors and individual mistakes.  It was a performance that had touched the heights by its fingertips but couldn’t remain there for more than a fleeting second or two.  5th was about right – 4th overall, too.

Different band

Ila meanwhile sounded a totally different band from the rather limp one we heard the day before.

’Exergy Re re-visited’ suited them perfectly – an ensemble work with a light feel in texture and dynamic. With plenty of confident solo playing (especially the solo cornet) and some wonderfully shaped phrasing from the MD it was a performance that totally engaged you – right to the quiet ending.

We thought it may well spring a surprise and so it proved as the men in the box gave it 2nd place on the day, propelling Ila to 5th place overall.

Chance of the title

With the ‘big three’ already having played, perhaps not too many thought Molde were the last band really to be in with a chance to take the title.

Their performance of ‘A Lowry Sketchbook’ perhaps didn’t have enough whiz-bang scorcher feel to it to have perhaps done enough to have secured overall victory, but it was a cleverly realised choice by Garry Cutt that allowed the band to play to their strengths and hide their more obvious weaknesses.

That saw them produce two movements of high class playing, but the third – the one that could have just done it for them, never came off as they tired and lost focus, so they had to be content with 6th place on the day and 3rd overall.

It was however the best result in the band’s history and showed that although they cannot produce the volume of sound or the sizzling technicalities of their rivals, they can use their noggins to make up the difference – especially when that intelligence is harnessed by such a good MD.

HH special

It was another Helge Haukas special for Jaren – a hugely enjoyable performance of ‘Paganini Variations’ that would have had the old boy himself smiling at the fun and frolics of it all. The problem as usual was that it was also full of the type of small, sloppy mistakes that can cause you to bite your tongue in half in despair.

Therefore we got character, colour and atmosphere by the bucketful, slips, clips, mis-pitching, wrong entries and wrong notes by shed full too – net result 9th place, when it could and should have been higher.

One day Jaren will play something with the discipline of a Buddhist monk and then we can all look out.

Oslo treat

That just left Oslo – and what a treat they had in store for us to close the contest.

This was a cracking performance of  ‘The Night to Sing’ – full of authentic ‘VE Night’ celebration and pathos in equal measures. Frode Amundsen just allowed the music to speak for itself – keeping himself as far away for intervening in the music making process as possible (and well done for that).

That allowed his players the freedom to express their obvious musical quality to the full – none more so than the young lady on solo euphonium who was quite outstanding.

The end result was a performance that richly captured the heart and soul of the subject matter as well as overcoming all the technical obstacles that lay in the way. 3rd place on the day and 2nd place overall was just as richly deserved too.

Results

Three hours or so later and the results were announced – much to the delight of the likes of Molde and Oslo who took just as much pleasure from filling the podium places as did the whole of the Eikanger Band when they were announced as National Champions for an 11th time.

Yet another National victory perhaps - but one by a band that has perhaps even greater achievements to look forward to in the years to come.

Iwan Fox

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