2009 West of England Regional Championship - Fourth Section- retrospective

19-Mar-2009

A marathon contest in the Fourth Section, but some cracking qualifiers will head to Harrogate. The rest of the country has been warned!


St. Breward
Getting to Harrogate: St Breward head for the finals after a top notch performance

A marathon contest of 19 bands started performing at 10am on Sunday morning, but as 4BR has seen here over the years the standard in the Fourth Section in the West of England is such that this large contest is an enjoyable one for listeners, including your hardy reporters!

Praise

As in other sections in Torquay, adjudicators Simone Rebello and Paul Norley praised the standard, saying that bands in the Fourth Section should not be nervous about performing in contests as they are filled with so many good players. Saying that, Frank Hughes’ ‘The Talisman’ is a tough test for bands, with very few truly being able to capture the style intended by the composer throughout the three movements.

Tempi

Several bands chose tempi that were simply too fast for them to handle, resulting in the semiquaver passages becoming muddy and unfocused. The distinction between 9/8 and 8/8 bars also was not mastered by many ensembles - the 8/8 bars sounding more like 8.75/9 rather than a full quaver shorter than the 9/8 measures.

This may be starting to sound rather negative, but it is not intended to. The standard in this section when compared to other regions in the country is truly impressive, and each of the 19 bands had something to offer - the higher-placed groups in particular giving very convincing readings of the work.

No surprise

Winners St. Breward were tipped by 4BR to do well, and it came as no surprise that they won on the day. All of the movements were well shaped with a nice sound throughout the dynamic levels, and the young chap on bass trombone could outblow most players twice his age! Congratulations to them, and 4BR is looking forward to seeing how well they do in Harrogate.

Downton had lots of fans in the crowd, and their cheers at the end were justified – it was a very good showing.

The bass end gave everything a lot of drive, and the cornet and euphonium soloists performed with aplomb in the second movement solo passages. The third movement was taken at just the right tempo, and although some small instances of poor tuning did spoil some sections, but 2nd place was just reward.

Third spot

The third qualification spot was taken by Test Valley Brass, playing first in the draw.

This was a very decent marker that held its own throughout the day, with fine playing from soloists and some crucially accurate tuning and ensemble work. There were some lovely touches from the horn player too, and this was enough to clinch the third spot for Harrogate.

More polish

Tewkesbury
needed a bit more polish and fine-tuning all round to be able to get to the Nationals. The opening of the second movement was very secure, as was the ending (something few bands managed to pull off) and the ending was fine.

However, there was some scrappy stuff and overblowing in some quarters, but 4th place from the judges will give the band another positive boost.

5th place went to Wilton & District Youth, although the initial quick tempo did not show the band in its best light. The reading got better as the piece progressed though, and even though there were a few inconsistencies this solid result will give the band lots of confidence when competing for the remainder of 2009.

Solid show

Another solid show brought a 6th place for Weymouth Concert Brass, whose performance 4BR really enjoyed. Everything sounded controlled (due to the sensible tempi chosen by MD Adam Glynn), the cornet soloist was on great form and the band’s trombonist was the only one on the day to capture the true style of the solo in the third movement. 6th place could have been even higher on another day.

Marshfield fell foul of tempos that unfortunately stretched the band beyond its limits, meaning that none of the semiquaver passages really spoke. This was a shame, as this was a good band that managed to create lovely musical moments.

However, the extremely quick tempi chosen scuppered any chances Marshfield may have had of qualifying for Harrogate, eventually finishing in 7th.

Respectable

Shanklin Town made the journey over the Solent to finish in a respectable 8th place. Lots of young faces in the ranks were on show, the band’s cornet and euphonium soloists impressed, and if the band’s playing had been a touch more polished it could have warranted a higher return than they were eventually awarded.

4BR enjoyed watching the enthusiasm that jumped off the stage from Chalford Academy, and it was just a shame that this young band didn’t have quite enough about them to come any higher than 9th - although there was lots to admire including a very full sounding bass section (which only had 2 young lads playing in it!).

MD Steve Tubb has a cracking set of young players under his command though, and a lovely sounding flugel player, so this band can only improve in the years to come.

Rocky start

A rocky start characterised most of Spinnaker Brass’ performance, which was hampered throughout by looseness in the ensemble and nervousness from some soloists. The accented notes at the end of the 2nd movement were the best of the day, but this was not enough for on this occasion.

Totnes started off at a sensible tempo which allowed most of the rhythmic detail to come through, and only slight lapses in ensemble and tuning were noticeable.

11th place was quite a harsh return, as although they may not have challenged for some of the top slots, this was a decent showing which just needed a touch more shape and space to allow the music to shine through even more.

Lack of security

A lack of security in some of the musical lines was the reason for Hatherleigh Silver’s 12th place. The start was delicate and the band’s cornet player had a very fine sound, but over-emphasis on many of the marked accents in the third movement and a lack of clarity in many places did not do the band any favours.

Swindon Brass, under Francis Cowley (mentioned in more detail at the end of this article) came 13th with a reading that took a while to settle down. The MD held everything together well, but not enough of the technical hurdles of the piece were overcome to warrant a higher-placed finish.

Neat and tidy

14th place went to Bratton Silver, whose neat and tidy playing in the first movement and a nice cornet soloist (on 2nd man down) in the second set them up for a good showing. However, the third movement was not as impressive, with more drive and attention to clarity needed, so they had to settle for 14th place.

Porthlevan Town may have done better if the opening tempos had not been allowed to slow down throughout the first movement - so 15th place was about right.

There was sometimes not enough definition between the 9/8 and 8/8 bars, and some scratchy sounds in some of the more exposed passages, but from an observers point of view there was a great spirit within the band, with lots of smiles from other players for soloists through the performance.

Bottom four

The bottom four of New Forest Brass, Cheltenham Silver, Lostwithiel Town and Bideford Town all struggled with the various challenges the piece threw up.

New Forest’s bass section was excellent, and Bideford chose some very sensible tempi, but when matched against some of the other bands in this section it was clear that the level of performance would have had to be raised to compete for higher placings. Cheltenham tried hard to overcome the technical hurdles placed in front of it, and the same too for a brave effort from Lostwithiel too.  
 
Nice aspect

A nice aspect of this contest was the large audience present for the majority of the day, with plenty of bandsmen and women taking time to listen and support the other bands.

Before the results were announced, local conductor Francis Cowley was presented with an award marking his 60th appearance as a player or conductor at these championships – what an achievement!

Three qualifiers went through when several of the others bands were also worthy of qualification for the National Finals, but the three that did make it will go to Harrogate knowing that they are coming from possibly the best region for lower section banding in the whole of the UK.

Rob Richardson

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