2009 London & Southern Counties Regional Championship - Third Section - retrospective

26-Mar-2009

Everything was in the right place at Stevenage in the Third Section - and the winners proved that to claim their victory.


Everything was looking good for the bands that gathered at Stevenage for the Third Section contest. 

Hard work

The hard-working organisers, who always ensure everything runs very efficiently, had managed to secure the Gordon Craig Theatre for the day, rather than the less than satisfactory “concert hall” (ie “sports hall”); secondly, the adjudicator’s box had been placed centrally, rather than to one side as in previous years; thirdly, a test piece that seemed to meet with universal approval from both players and listeners. 

Even the weather smiled on the expectant banders, the sun shining down in contrast to the bad weather encountered last year. Only the machinations of Network Rail cast a cloud on the proceedings, necessitating a Rail Replacement bus for those resorting to rail travel for the day.

Liked the piece

Adjudicator Paul Cosh, in his remarks prior to the results being announced, said that he liked the piece a lot, and referred in particular to his native Dorset’s links with the Arthurian legends. 

He explained that he always looks for five simple elements when adjudicating: sound, intonation, ensemble, technique and musicality. He said he would have liked to see bands make more of the musical lines, particularly in the 2nd movement, and that some bands took the Processional so slowly that it almost ground to a halt.

More dynamics

Bands could also have made more of the dynamic contrast, and highlighted a crescendo from pp to p in the basses that very few bands seemed to observe, and also pointed out the problems most bands had encountered with the opening bars. 

Paul referred to the difficulties when playing slow music at an irregular tempo, and felt that the vagueness of some of the conducting had contributed to this.

Lastly, he felt that many bands made the last movement too heavy, when it was intended as a joyous celebration of victory, and would have benefited from a lighter touch.

Start off

It fell to Hitchin Band to start the day off, and the opening cymbal roll and clashed cymbals did not bode well, sounding rather unconvincing. 

Despite some muddiness in the fanfares, things improved greatly with the warm sound of the middle of the band at letter A. 

Their performance highlighted several elements that were to recur throughout the day, including a buzzing sound resulting in a lack of clarity from the muted baritones and trombones in the middle movement. 

The soprano solo was nicely restrained, but there were intonation issues with the baritones, euphoniums and basses, and the glockenspiel triplets against the cornet semiquavers did not sound at all comfortable.

Confident tutti

In common with many bands, the playing was more confident in the tutti sections, although Hitchin do not have the biggest of sounds, and some of the loud sections could have been more forceful. Nevertheless they laid down a good benchmark for the others to follow, and were rewarded with a well-deserved 5th place.

Three basses

Croydon Brass
then took the stage with just three basses, only two percussionists and a trombone covering the second baritone part. The initial trombone entry was rather lacklustre, and nowhere near the requested ff (another recurring problem throughout the day) and the cornet intonation was not good. 

Despite only having two players, the percussion contribution throughout their performance was full of confidence, in contrast to the uncertainty apparent in some other sections.

Insecure entries marred the middle movement, and despite a laudable attempt at a pianissimo, the bell effects were not very successful. The last movement was untidy, and attempts at quiet playing frequently resulted in notes not sounding, and with a dodgy entry on the final chord 11th place was no great surprise.

Started with confidence

Betteshanger Welfare
started confidently, with the fanfare clearly delineated and contrasting dynamics. The soprano solo in Lyonesse was neatly done, if above the written dynamic, and the bell effects were the most effective yet. 

The glockenspiel was also much more convincing, and although the euphoniums and basses before G were rather untidy the ending of the movement was effective. The 3rd movement opened with very clear rhythms and clean solo lines, continuing in confidence until a rather untidy final chord. 

With their bright, pleasing overall sound, their 6th place was well merited.

Standing

Waterbeach Brass
opted to have the cornets and trombones standing for the opening. The fanfare worked well, although the following pianissimo was a little on the safe side. Although the middle of the band produced a full, warm sound there were some intonation problems in the horn section which detracted from the overall effect. Accents were clearly marked, particularly in the bars before letter D.

There were a few sticky moments at the start of Lyonesse, but things settled down and the crescendo later on was nicely judged, with the changing harmonies coming over very clearly. 

There was a slight hiatus before the last movement as the conductor waited for the percussion to be ready, but the movement when it came was worth waiting for, with particular mention for the clean playing on soprano and baritone, and the strong ending which earned them 3rd place, just missing out on a trip to Harrogate.

Couple of gaps

Great Yarmouth
, with a couple of gaps around the stand, opened very tentatively, especially the trombone entry, and the intonation in the middle of the band let them down on the day. The music did not seem to flow, and this carried on into the second movement. 

The opening bars were fairly safe, but there were too many missed notes and the overall sound was not quite right, with the cornets at times sounding too strident. A nicely measured crescendo was spoilt by poor tuning, although the chord at the end of the movement was nicely done. The finale saw much of the same, with some wobbly sustained notes in the lower brass and a general lack of confidence: 14th place it was.

Intonation

BAE Systems
were another band to be let down by intonation after a positive start. In the second movement, the muted cornets were not moving together, and a dropped mute at one of the quietest moments was not exactly conducive to creating right atmosphere. 

There was some good work by basses and trombone, however, and the euphonium and bass feature was sensitively played. The timpani at the start of the Toccata were quiet but distinct, although the tambourine seemed to get slightly out of sync with the rest of the band. Overall, it was a nice, lilting style, with clean semiquaver work, but it was unlikely to break into the frame: 9th place seemed about right.

One place behind

Hangleton
followed them onto the stage, and also ended up one place behind them at the end of the day, in 10th. Little was made of the accents at the opening, and intonation could have been better. The horns were uncertain at letter D and the tutti at E never reached the required fortissimo. 

More insecurity marred the middle movement, with fluffed runs and imprecise solo playing, although things did pick up in the last movement, which displayed a better grasp of rhythm and moved on more confidently towards the end.

Cymbal

The cymbal at the start of LGB Brass’s performance commenced well above the required pianissimo, and the cornets came across as being very strident. Generally the quiet dynamics were not properly observed, as with the euphonium and bass entry at B, whilst the performance was plagued by uncertainty both in note production and tuning. 

The second movement fared a little better, with some sensitive playing from the cornets and the tenor instruments following suit. There was a good attempt at the bell-effect semiquaver scales, and the sop trill in the following tutti came across clearly, although it did tend to over-dominate. 

The finale, although fairly tidy, was marked by too many fluffed notes and to cap it all, what seemed be an overlong final chord was interrupted by the ringing of a mobile phone. 

It was a performance that clearly did not find favour with the man in the box, who placed them 15th and last.

Not the best of starts

Woodbridge Excelsior
did not get off to the best of starts when the clash cymbal at the start seemed to come in slightly early, highlighting what was a very tentative opening all round. The impression was that it was all slightly under tempo, and rather disjointed. 

This impression carried on into the second movement, although there was some good, quiet playing from the basses. Other soloists also produced some good work, but one felt they were always fighting against the band when it came to intonation. 

In the finale, some of the solo work was rather muddy, although the tutti playing was better, but there was a strange anticlimax at the end, as if neither band nor audience were sure the performance had finished. One of several performances towards the bottom of the field which were quite hard to separate: 12th place was the adjudicator’s decision.

Cleanest rendition

St Sebastian Wokingham
produced possibly the cleanest rendition of the opening heard all day, with the semiquavers cleanly articulated even at the lowest dynamic levels. The melody from the middle of the band at B was carefully phrased, with a warm, well-balanced sound. 

Even the best bands suffered occasionally over intonation, and it affected the opening of the second movement, but only for a bar or so. The trombone solo before C presented many problems throughout the day, but Wokingham’s player nailed it perfectly – smoothly articulated and spot on in tune.

The Toccata featured excellent work from all the soloists, and the horn players acquitted themselves particularly well. All in all, it was exciting playing, with all the elements fitting together neatly, and a worthy winner for us.

Worked very hard

Fulham
worked very hard at the opening, producing an effective pianissimo in bar 6, although there were intonation problems later between flugel and solo horn. It also seemed a little sluggish at times, and the semiquavers in E could have done with a little more separation. 

The second movement got off to an excellent start, and the basses whispered out their parts very effectively. The Toccata was well-defined, with much made of the contrasts in dynamics and attack, another performance that allowed the music to speak for itself. It was definitely in contention, and on another day could have come higher than the 4th place it was given.

Poor start

Watford
got off to a poor start with insecure fanfares, and never really recovered. Their reading was marred by intonation problems between flugel and horns which affected much of the first two movements. 

Their soprano made a good job of the solo entry at A, keeping closer to the written dynamic than most, and things did pick up a little overall with the last movement, but there were still too many moments of uncertainty to expect much more than the 13th place which Paul Cosh awarded.

Tackle

Chalgrove
tackled the opening with confidence and some success, but there was a shaky moment from the percussion at the first change of tempo, and horn intonation suffered in the quieter passages. 

At the opening of the second movement, the muted cornets turned their bells away from the audience to good effect, and there was good work from the bass section. The bell effects were treated very delicately, and the glockenspiel fitted in neatly. 

The entry of the “l’homme arme” theme in the finale was very positive, and the 7/8 rhythm seemed perfectly natural. There was a good build-up towards the end and their mid-point placing of 8th was probably about right.

Shaky

Tadley Concert Brass
recovered from a shaky start, with ill-defined fanfares and poor intonation in the middle of the band. Things had improved by the end of the first movement, and the second saw some delicate work from basses and soprano, with another good reading of the trombone solo. 

The build-up through the bell effects to F was very effective, although the soprano was rather screechy at F itself. The last movement was not so secure though, with repeated quavers in particular lacking definition, and the percussion seemed to go missing on the final note. 

Not without its positives, but another mid-place placing of 7th.

Last to play

Last to play, in what some would say was an ideal position, was Hungerford Town, and they certainly grasped the bull by the horns with a full-blooded opening fanfare that almost bordered on brashness, with no real cut back to pianissimo. 

The middle of the band certainly produced a pleasant, balanced sound, but there did seem to be a tendency to overblow. There was some particularly delicate playing in the middle movement, with the chamber music passages showing considerable attention to detail. 

The crescendi were well judged, and the sostenuto at D for baritones, euphoniums and basses was very effective. The finale was also quite convincing, with the trombone chord before F making more of an impact than any other band on the day. 

A fine performance then, if a little “in your face” for some tastes, but it pleased Paul Cosh, and that’s what matters on the day – 2nd place, and the task of fund-raising for Harrogate can begin.

Interesting session

It had been an interesting session, with music that tested the bands both in terms of their playing technique and their musicality. Few bands escaped unscathed, with the opening fanfares proving problematic and the perennial bugbear of intonation raising its ugly head, particularly with so many open fifths and bare octaves to contend with. Having said that, it was the music that had won the day, as was borne out by the comments made by all and sundry.

Peter Bale

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