2009 London & Southern Counties Regional Championship - Second Section - retrospective26-Mar-2009
There was plenty to enjoy in the Second Section - especially from the bands that won through to Harrogate via a trip to the USA.
The efficiency of the powers that be at Stevenage was such that the Second Section started very soon after the presentation to the Third Section winners, catching both the stewards in the hall and us unaware.
Hence the need to offer our apologies to Chinnor Silver, the first band on stage, who started their performance while we were still ringing through the Third Section results!
The adjudicator for the Second Section, was Philip Sparke, and he was full of praise for the test piece, saying he had had no problem listening to the seventeen performances.
He referred to certain basic requirements that he had been looking for, such as the observance of dynamics, particularly where the melody is marked at a higher dynamic than the accompaniment.
Speaking of the need for tightness of ensemble when playing as a band, he explained that he has often referred players to the dance bands of the 1930’s to hear really tight ensemble playing.
He had felt that the triplets in the score had rarely been played correctly, and the mezzofortes had frequently been rather anonymous in character. In a humorous reference to intonation problems, he cited recent problems with instrument manufacture, saying that only the trombone can be played properly in tune . . . and then regretting that few players had chosen to do so!
This actually highlighted one recurring problem during the session, in that many of the tenor trombone players did not manage to get the Eb at the end of their brief solo in tune. There were also only a couple of bass trombone players who were convincing in their duet with the euphonium in Deep South, and the ensuing passages.
Lastly, he referred to the instruction 'Relaxed' at letter D, feeling that some players had taken the marking a little too literally.
Spirit of the music
This aspect for us highlighted one of the problems in trying to assess the respective performances, in that some bands caught the spirit of the music better, even though the notation as not entirely accurate, whilst others played, in the words of the advert, “exactly what it says on the can”, but the end result sounded very stilted.
There had also been much discussion beforehand regarding the percussion requirements for 'New World Sketches'.
As it was, bands at Stevenage fielded 2, 3 or 4 players, with some bands with depleted numbers making a better job of putting in the key elements than others using a full compliment.
We couldn’t tell whether some of those playing had been co-opted from their usual instruments, but some of the playing was very lacklustre and half-hearted, with considerable divergence from the score.
Even basic rhythms on claves and maracas got out of sync on several occasions, threatening to destabilise the bands in question. As for the selection of motor horns employed, these varied from ornate examples that could have graced a vintage Bentley to electronic efforts that sounded more like doorbells, with almost as much variation in the actual placing of their respective toots in the appropriate bars.
Having missed the first band, Chinnor Silver, who ended up in 11th place, the first band we heard was Chichester City.
They made much of the contrasts at the opening, with a suitably smoochy cornet solo, although the soft sticks employed on the xylophone did not seem to do the trick. In Deep South, however, the bass trombone entry was insecure and there was a general lack of precision in the slower sections, although the euphonium and cornet solos were delicately phrased.
The last movement seemed a little rushed at times to us, but the performance pleased Philip enough for him to place them 5th.
Littleport Brass brought a languid cornet solo and generally neat work from both soprano and Bb cornets, although the trombone solo was uncertain. As with many bands, Deep South opened with some fine euphonium playing, but their young bass trombone player’s entry was not very confident.
The tutti playing, however, was neat and tidy, in both the slow and fast passages. The last section opened with some crisp articulation, and a pleasant rendition of the tuba solo. The band produced a full, balanced sound, although there were a few split notes in the reprise of the Hoedown which may have affected their placing: 9th place it was.
Brighton & Hove presented the opening with a light touch, although the police whistle – marked to enter at forte – seemed rather half-hearted. The cornet solo featured an effectively bent note and the band seemed to catch the right style.
The cornet in Deep South was duly relaxed, with good percussion support, and the bass trombone entry was more confident. Both flugel and bass solos flowed smoothly, although the last movement did not really seem to build to a real fortissimo. 15th place seemed rather harsh to us.
Tilbury, under their flamboyant conductor Alan Duguid, whose dapper appearance in a shiny grey suit brought quite a reaction from the audience, displayed a nicely relaxed style in the opening bars, with a rather free interpretation of the cornet solo.
Deep South revealed some intonation problems, and uncertainty in the placement of some of the shot chords. There were also discrepancies between euphonium and cornet when sharing the melodic line. The trombone section produced some characterful playing towards the end, but their reading seemed to have made a better impression on us than on Philip, who consigned them to 14th place.
East London Brass came to the contest full of confidence following their win at Butlins earlier in the year. Right from the opening bars it seemed that this was going to be the one to beat.
The opening was very tight, with fine work from flugel and trombone, nicely judged decrescendos, and a suitable swagger to the “Rhapsody in Blue” quote. Despite a slightly shaky bass trombone, Deep South worked well, the band producing a pleasant sound with excellent intonation throughout.
Rodeo saw neat articulation and effective dove-tailing between soprano and Bb cornets, and the changes of tempo and dynamics were all achieved convincingly. It was no surprise to find that Philip Sparke had them in 1st position, with a trip to Harrogate in prospect.
Thundersley opened confidently, with a positive contribution from their 4 percussionists. Balance was generally good, although the bass trombone was a little heavy at times. In Deep South, the train section did not flow very smoothly, and some of the playing seemed very self-conscious.
The last movement set off at a cracking pace, and seemed a bit of a scramble at times, although the tuba solo was well done. 12th place seemed about right.
Becontree, having been demoted from the First Section, set a slower tempo at the opening of Sidewalk than most. A highlight of their performance was the balanced sound of their trombone section, full of character and colour throughout.
It was also one of the few readings to make the most of the “molto vib” instruction for top trombone. The middle movement also produced some solid, secure playing, with a clear pedal from the bass, and Rodeo was played with confidence and assurance. One wondered whether it had been a little safe at times, and whether taking a few more risks could have raised their placing from the 8th awarded by Philip.
Ware Brass started well, but they were let down a little by tuning in the trombone solo, although the bass trombone went some way to make amends with the best performance yet in Deep South.
Euphoniums were nicely restrained, and the muted work by the trombone section came off effectively. Although the basses were good, they were well above the pianissimo marked on the score. As for the last movement, it was most enthusiastic but seemed to us to be rather untidy, with a somewhat lacklustre crescendo in the final bars. Nevertheless, 6th place it was.
Norfolk Wherry Brass was one of the bands that seemed to take the question of interpretation a little too freely, not least as regards the percussion.
Untidy ensemble and failure to observe the dynamics would have counted against them and their soloists were frequently exposed. Percussion in Deep South seemed to get adrift, whilst playing the guiro with the handle of a timp stick simply did not work, as is failed to make any impression on the grooves.
Players and conductor were often adrift, and their seemed to be little interaction between one another, so 16th place was no surprise.
Stantonbury Brass’ reading was plagued by tuning problems from the outset. Despite some better playing in Deep South the tempo seemed shaky, producing problems co-ordinating the euphonium and claves, whilst the bell announcing the coming locomotive was barely audible.
The playing was generally nervous and uncertain, causing major problems in Rodeo, and 17th and last place it was.
Crystal Palace, playing with only two percussion, played the opening rather quietly, and although there was a lilting feel to the music it was not particularly accurate.
One missed the crispness of the claves in Deep South, the substituting side drum not passing muster, and the solos were played very straight, which did not really work. The band seemed to grow in confidence with the last movement, however, and the tuba player produced a fine vibrato as requested. 13th place was the outcome.
Alder Valley Brass combined a relaxed approach to the opening with a generally tidy ensemble, and there was some excellent euphonium playing in Deep South – beautifully restrained, if rather under the mezzopiano marking.
There were a few tuning problems in the basses, and the last movement was not so impressive, despite some clean work from the trombones towards the end. A tighter finale could well have lifted them even higher than their deserved 4th place.
Yiewsley and West Drayton took to the stage with their flugel player having her left arm in a sling, but it did not seem to hamper her to too great an extent.
They showed all-round enthusiasm in their playing, with a committed 4-man percussion team. Dynamics were closely observed, and the soloists seemed to get the balance right when it came to how much freedom to take.
Deep South was nicely laid-back, with a good warm sound throughout the band and clean work by the soprano. Ensemble in Rodeo was commendably tight, and despite a few intonation issues towards the end their 2nd place was well-deserved.
Epping Forest, with only two percussionists and a solo cornet light, nevertheless produced some good ensemble playing in all three movements.
They brought a real sense of swagger to the “Rhapsody in Blue” quote, but they were hampered by some insecure playing from soloists. A middle range placing of 10th seemed about right.
Colchester opened very briskly, but with generally tidy ensemble playing, although the soloists were somewhat of a mixed bunch.
The relaxed solo work in Deep South was good, with a clean bass trombone entry, but the hiatus before the third movement was rather unsettling.
The lilting jig proved quite infectious, and although there were some co-ordination issues between the players they continued to exude confidence as the piece drew to a close, and their 7th place was well-deserved.
Last to play were Fairlop Brass, whose ensemble seemed rather untidy at the opening. Solos from cornet and flugel were good, but trombone tuning let them down a little.
In Deep South they produced what was for us the best bass trombone playing of the day, beautifully centred and clear, and the movement as a whole gelled together well with a nice, steady tread.
They caught the spirit of the last movement well, and although 3rd place seemed to surprise a few people, one wonders how many other performances they had actually heard, with many having just gathered in the theatre at the end of the day in expectation of the results.
On a day with some fine playing on display – and a special word for the generally excellent xylophonists – East London Brass were clear winners, with Yiewsley & West Drayton joining them in Harrogate.
Jayne Murrill was unable to collect the Reg Nicholson Memorial Trophy awarded to the winning conductor as she was rehearsing with Redbridge, but no doubt their win on Sunday made it all worth while.
European Brass Band Championships
Venue: Kursall Concert Hall, Kursaal-Westhelling 12, 8400 Ostende, Belgium 84000