2009 West of England Regional Championship - Third Section - retrospective

19-Mar-2009

Fun and games and plenty of excellent playing in the Third Section as the West shows who is best once again...


The lower sections in Torquay are always fun to listen to.

High standard

The standard is high, the varying ages of the players makes for a very interesting mix of youth and experience, and the atmosphere remains one of friendly competition. Add to this a fine test piece, Andrew Baker’s ‘The Once and Future King’, and you have the perfect formula to a great day’s contesting.

Every year at the Regionals, comments are made about the suitability of test pieces for the section to which they are assigned, but for the bands in the West of England Third Section this piece was perfectly suited.

There are many pitfalls in the work that did catch out many of the bands, with the opening section not really being fully mastered by anyone, except perhaps the winners.

Opportunity

There is opportunity for soloists all around the band to shine, and plenty of dynamic variance and phrasing possibilities to allow individual interpretations from the MDs. Of course, some of these worked and some didn’t, but ‘The Once and Future King’ certainly has been written to show off exactly what the bands in the Third Section can do, and also to highlight areas that need to be worked upon to enable them to gain promotion.

So, with 16 bands to listen to on Saturday afternoon, 4BR settled in to the spacious surroundings of its personal balcony (thanks to the contest staff for allowing us to use it!) in the Riviera Centre’s Arena hall to see what was on offer.

In the mix

Brunel Brass were always going to be in the mix.

Right from the word go it was clear that they had quality throughout the ranks (although one cornet did come in slightly early at the beginning!) and would be setting a tough act for others to match.

MD John Winterflood’s interpretation was very enjoyable to listen to, and the band’s soloists all acquitted themselves well. 4BR remembers being impressed by the band’s soprano player last year in Torquay, and was not disappointed this time either – this man is class!

Come results time, it was no surprise that Brunel were victors, the first band ever at these championships to win the Fourth and Third Sections in consecutive years.

Mystery

The runners up spot was Bugle Silver under David Pope. This was something of a mystery to 4BR, as the balance of good and bad elements seemed to be more towards the bad in some parts of the performance.

The opening was pretty disastrous, and tuning was not the best in many parts. In addition, some players in the band seemed not to notice the accidentals that the composer had marked in the parts. However, the band did have possibly the best solo cornet player on the day and a wonderful soprano player. Things did recover in the third movement and the closing bars were massive - enough the judges felt to send the band to Harrogate.

Same to be said

The same could have been said for 3rd-placed Wotton & District Silver. Again, there were some nice moments, but there did not seem to be enough overall quality on show to challenge some of the other bands in the section.

The trombone section was one of the best 4BR heard all day and they made a wonderful sound, so the band will be working hard to qualify for the Nationals next year after just missing out this time around.

Leader?

Pendennis Brass (Falmouth)
was the leader for 4BR until Brunel played immediately after them!

From the very beginning it was clear this was a quality outfit, and they continued to make sense of the music right until the end. All the important parts were emphasised by the MD, and the extremely quiet bass theme in the second movement was an excellent effect. The band may be slightly disappointed in coming 4th, but they will be an ensemble to look out for next year.

Denmead Brass drew the dreaded number one but sounded confident from the word go – sometimes a bit too much as a bit more refinement in the sound could have benefited.

This was the major flaw in a performance that was otherwise very stylish and well managed by the MD. The trombone and cornet soloists were solid and although it all ended with a bit of a damp squib, Denmead can take heart from this showing. 5th place was a good bad return.

Unorthodox

Sat in one of the most unorthodox seating patterns to be seen all weekend, Weston Brass finished in a well-deserved 6th place.

The MD made sure as much detail as possible was heard, and even though the third movement was taken at a comparatively slower pace than others, the excitement level was definitely high. The middle of the band impressed greatly, especially Weston’s solo baritone player who made some great contributions.

Balanced

James Burns took St. Stythians into 7th place with a showing that featured a band with a very nice, balanced sound and a good sense of rhythmic pulse throughout, aided by some punchy basses. The band made a good sound even at the lower end of the dynamic scale, and all the soloists acquitted themselves well.

There were some issues in the third movement, but they can be pleased with their playing, even if the result may not have been exactly what the players were hoping for.

Right in the middle

Right in the middle of the results table in 8th place, Bath Spa had a tight ensemble in many places enhanced by effective percussion playing, but there were too many inconsistencies throughout to impress the adjudicators further.

Bath’s ending was one of the best of the day and the MD shaped everything nicely, but unfortunately it was too little too late on this particular Saturday afternoon.

Playing from the number 7 spot, Sidmouth Town could only manage a 9th place.

More attention to sound quality was needed throughout the performance, as the MD’s interpretation was excellent and the band benefited from a very solid bass section and a euphonium player with a lovely sound. The final movement was very good, but unfortunately a mid-table position was all the band could claim this time around.

A bit higher?

4BR thought that 10th-placed Pillowell Silver could have finished a bit higher on the day.

MD Steve Ruck took no risks with the lower dynamics, and each section was allowed to flow. The band had a great baritone soloist and a very exciting end section, but there was some scrappiness in the cornets in places and the last note was far from being together with the percussion - so 10th it was. They will be stronger next year for sure though.

Young talent

Lots of youngsters were playing with Bream Silver, which is always good see. 11th place will have been slightly disappointing though as the MD gave some lovely shaping to the phrases and there was some excellent dynamic contrasts in each of the three movements.

Corsham’s performance had many good moments in it, and 12th place was a touch harsh. The band was possibly penalised for some of the quick tempos that were selected, some very noticeable tuning problems from the middle/lower band in the second movement and the inaccurate final chord.

Nevertheless, this was committed playing from the outset which on another day could have come higher.

Nothing awfully wrong

There was nothing awfully wrong with what Wincanton Silver did particularly - it was just the lack of overall quality in comparison with some other bands that prevented a higher placing.

Everything was solidly played, and the muted cornet and trombone features at the beginning of the second movement were very nicely played, but too many instances of slight hesitation and some tuning problems all resulted in an eventual 13th place.

Not enough

14th spot went to Torbay Brass, who began their contention for Harrogate majestically enough, but whose overall quality of performance was not quite enough to warrant a higher placing.

The soprano playing was particularly classy, with lovely vibrato and style, and the 2nd movement ended finely, but more work will need to be done to push the band up the table in 2010.

AW Parker (Drybrook) suffered from some tuning problems and frequent occasions of overblowing when it was not called for. This was a shame, as the band could play the piece, but when things seemed to be going well a moment of errant tuning or harsh playing spoilt the flow of the music. If these problems are ironed out the band will be able to improve on the 15th position next year for sure.

No complaints

Launceston Town
could not really complain with 16th position, as the performance was marred throughout by unfortunate incidents of bad tuning and ensemble.

However, many parts were securely played, and the percussion team worked excellently well together, the older member doing a great job of coordinating his section’s efforts – great stuff to watch.

4BR has heard (and read) some idiotic comments about the two adjudicators here not being ‘experienced’ enough to adjudicate this contest – utter nonsense.

Fresh air

Come results time, both Simone Rebello and Paul Norley (excellent musicians in their own right) gave very helpful and detailed comments on what they had been looking for, and using younger adjudicators is nothing but a breath of fresh air for the movement as a whole.

Both judges praised the standard in the contest, with Simone emphasising the need to consider the acoustic when performing at a contest, especially for percussion players – whose efforts sometimes were not compatible with the boomy Arena hall.

Paul agreed that the standard had been excellent, and told the large audience that he had been looking for consistency in tempi, rhythm and balance. This was a far cry from some contests where the adjudicators barely bother to even commend the bands, let alone give any sort of constructive criticism on the performances they had heard. Hopefully these two judges will be used more and more in the future.

Interesting

Overall, this was a very interesting afternoon’s listening. There were inevitably varying standards of playing on show, but on the whole the bands’ performances were very enjoyable, making listening to 16 bands (yes, 4BR does listen to every band in every section!) more of a pleasure than a chore.

The winner here will be a very strong challenger for the Third Section title in Harrogate, and it will be interesting to see how the many youngsters here have developed as players when 4BR returns to the contest next year.

Thanks to all involved for a very enjoyable contest – particularly to Andrew Baker, who has written a great work that will undoubtedly be used again and again by bands at this level.

Rob Richardson

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