2009 Scottish Regional Championship - Fourth Section - retrospective

26-Mar-2009

Short on numbers and unfortunatley short on quality in the Fourth Section - but not on bravery, grit and determination.


In what was a wonderful weekend of music making, probably the most disappointing element of the 2009 Scottish Championships was the tiny entry in the Fourth Section – with only five bands actually making it to the starting block.

Difficulty

There are plenty of Fourth Section bands in Scotland, but from talking to many different people it seems that many of them have decided to shun the contest because of the difficulty of Frank Hughes’ ‘The Talisman’.

It must also be said that the standard was pretty disappointing, presenting the adjudicators with a huge task just to separate the bands into some kind of meaningful order.

Challenges

No band on the day really managed to fully get to grips with the numerous challenges the piece throws up, and when the results came out it could have been a toss-up between several bands for the title itself.

There are several elements in the piece that would test the mettle of players in higher sections, including many exposed passages (some in quite high registers) that can do the players no favours in terms of pre-contest confidence. Soloists here were unfortunately rather shaky on the whole, and no one really stood out.

Definition

Another element that no band managed to get to grips with was the section written in alternating 8/8 and 9/8 bars. There was almost no definition between the two, with the 8/8 bars sounding more like a slightly shortened 9/8 measure, and the 9/8 having no compound feeling to them at all in any performance.

Convincing

In the end, the title was awarded to Peebles Burgh, under Alan Fernie. Drawn number one, Peebles gave what was the most convincing performance of the work heard on the day, although it was one that would have struggled greatly in some other regions 4BR has reported from.

Peebles’ playing was characterised by excellent tuning and a decent ensemble sound at the louder dynamics. The band’s soloists performed well, with the principal euphonium possessing a lovely tone and cultured vibrato, which added a touch of class to the proceedings.

On the down side though, many of the technical aspects of the piece were not handled well.

Boomy

The acoustic of this hall is boomy at the best of times, which does not help when trying to achieve clarity in technically challenging passages, and much detail was lost throughout the performance. MD Alan Fernie had obviously worked hard on the pieces dynamic variances, but Peebles will have to up their game to challenge for a top placing in Harrogate.

Strange

Brass Sounds Inverclyde’s
performance was something of a strange one, as the difference in quality between their last movement and the previous two was rather marked. In common with the other bands, Inverclyde’s first movement saw many of the technical challenges not being met, with many semiquaver passages not being heard at all.

However, the band’s principal cornet and euphonium players made a good job of their solo passages, and the end of the second movement featured some nice bass sectional work that added depth to the sound – a nice effect to finish. Alistair McCorkell, the band’s principal cornet player, was rewarded for his efforts come results time by being adjudged to be the day’s best instrumentalist.

Sensible tempos

The third movement was the band’s weakest, with soloists sounding slightly nervous, and despite a very sensible tempo chosen by MD Gareth Bowman (who had won the Third Section with Coalburn earlier on in the day) it was not entirely convincing.

Second place was just a just reward, and the players from Inverclyde must be looking forward to discovering what piece awaits them for the trip to Harrogate.

These two bands had definitely been more convincing, and the remainder of the three placings could really have been given to anyone, as the three bands that followed Peebles and Inverclyde in the table all struggled to get to grips with the musical and technical aspects of the work.

Scrappy

Penicuik Silver
finished in 3rd place with a performance that was characterised by some very nice solo cornet work and meaningful flugel contributions. Unfortunately though, a lot of the playing was very scrappy and the tempos badly slowed in places. Some other individual contributions did add a bit of polish to the performance, but Penicuik failed to master the challenges enough to give a convincing reading of the work.

These comments may all sound a touch harsh, but it must be stressed that this is in no way the fault of the bands – this piece was simply too hard!

Good to see

Moving on to the lower end of the table, the youngsters of Dumfries Town finished in 4th place. This band only has a sprinkling of adults in the ranks, so will be a good prospect for the future once these players develop further. One of the band’s Bb bass players, Greg Rusca, won the award for the youngest player on the day, and it was good to see several youngsters playing this notoriously difficult instrument!

Dumfries had very good euphonium and horn players, whose solos were enjoyable to listen to, and it was unfortunate that the tempo chosen in the third movement was far too fast for the players to handle.

Slowing things down to allow the technical hurdles to be better attempted could have yielded a possible higher placing for Dumfries, but the band can only improve in the years to come and will be keen to better this placing in 2010.

Rocky start

Someone had to finish in 5th place, and it was Queensferry Community Brass.

Their beginning was not helped by the loud shouting outside the hall just before the band began, but things did improve slightly after the piece had got off to a very rocky start.

Queensferry’s cornet, euphonium, horn and trombone players all made brave efforts in their solo contributions, but some dynamic features were added that are not in the score, and 5th place was all the band could manage.

Pertinent

Adjudicator Allan Ramsay made a very pertinent comment regarding the difficulty of the piece in his speech to the audience, saying that it was based on a quartet that was performed by the award winning Fodens quartet – a bit of a difference in level from the regional Fourth Section.

Allan diplomatically criticised the choice of piece, citing that the level of difficulty in it was way above what bands in this section should be exposed to in a contesting environment.

On what was a bit of a low point of the weekend, it was still good to see five bands tackling the piece, and one hopes that next year a more accessible work for this level will be chosen so we can see the true number of Fourth Section bands in Scotland and in other areas fighting it out for a chance to play in Harrogate.

Robert Richardson

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