2010 Midlands Regional Championship - First Section: retrospective

19-Mar-2010

Never believe the statistics they say as Langley upset the form book to take the First Section title.


Langley
Winning smile: Langley's MD Cliff Parker picks up the silverware
Picture: Chris Thomas


It would be an interesting exercise in statistical analysis to know how many of the First Section MD’s in Bedworth last Saturday had their spies out in Bradford the previous weekend.

There must have been a few to listen to Kevin Wadsworth  and his views on 'A Moorside Suite' – surely?

Lessons learnt?

Certainly, if anything had been learnt, and Kevin made it quite clear what he was looking for at Yorkshire, it was not always immediately evident in the Civic Hall, as many of the bands fell victim to Holst’s perilously exposed scoring in what is a test of the very basics of musicality.

When it came to the ‘Nocturne’ it was to be fully expected that many bands would struggle, but not one on the day succeeded in sustaining the atmosphere fully without lapses in tuning or simply maintaining the flow of the musical line.

What was perhaps more surprising however was that so many bands failed to capture the essential style and “Englishness” of the music - all too often as a result of erratic tempi and a heads down preoccupation with the notes themselves rather than the music hiding behind them.

Even when it did come off many bands clocked up a surprising number of spare and blatantly wrong entries. It was so frustrating to listen to.

Detailed summary

As Kevin Wadsworth’s co-adjudicator Philip Harper pointed out in his admirably detailed summing up (what a great shame that more adjudicators don’t take a leaf out of his book - it was tremendously beneficial to all concerned) that ‘A Moorside Suite’ is an essentially abstract score with the only real guidance in the titles of the movements.

Yet there are also stylistic clues that can be gained from a basic study of the composer and his music he said.

Holst was a great walker, often over considerable distances in the companionship of his great friend Vaughan Williams, and the lilt and melodic line of the opening ‘Scherzo’, could easily be compared with the shape of the landscapes that he loved so much.

Weight

All too often though the weight of the playing destroyed the character of what is after all a light ‘Scherzo’ and as such warrants a certain deftness of musical touch.   

In the ‘March’, fluctuating tempi between the louder music and the folk-song like quieter material seemed to be actively encouraged by some MD’s, whilst others disappeared in a blur of flailing arms as they tried desperately to move resolutely defiant players onwards as the march tempo slowed to something more akin to a lazy stroll.

Character

Ultimately, around half of the 18 bands succeeded in extracting something of the character of the music, although around half of those again were prone to clips and lapses that cost dearly.  For the remainder, ‘A Moorside Suite’ was a telling reminder of just how tough life in the First Section can be.                        

Credit

In the event it was to the immense credit of Langley and Cliff Parker that after a long wait to take to the stage as the last band, the players retained their collective concentration to deliver a solid performance that will take them to Harrogate, although they will remain in the First Section for next year too - much to the disappointment of their rivals if they play as well as this again next time!

From the opening of the ‘Scherzo’ it was clear that this was a well prepared band, with carefully judged tempi by the MD and precise ensemble.

In the ‘Nocturne’ it was the dynamics that impressed, with only fleeting tuning issues noted along the way. Although the ‘March’ faltered briefly at the very beginning, the band recovered quickly to deliver an effective conclusion that maintained its tempo throughout. It was not as bracing as some perhaps, but it was certainly the most uniformly delivered ‘March’ of the day.

After a disappointing 20th at Butlins just a few weeks ago and 13th at last year’s area, it was a win that represented a massive change of fortune for the band from the Black Country.

Langley
Impressive celebrations: Langley enjoy that winning feeling
Picture: Chris Thomas


Impressive


Joining Langley in Harrogate, and turning in an impressive performance following relegation from the Championship Section will be Derwent Brass under Keith Leonard, who were fancied by many in the hall to take the title.

Although it was those tell tale lapses in the ‘Nocturne’ and ‘March’ that just cost them the chance of victory, it was nevertheless a fine account, deserving of it’s qualification.

There was no doubting either that it was one of the most musically astute performances with its finely shaped ‘Scherzo’ and fluid ‘Nocturne’, whilst the sound of the band clearly showed an ensemble that has competed at the top level.

It made for a top two that was well ahead of the rest of the field.

Keenly contested

Third place was always going to be keenly contested given the extra qualification place up for grabs,  and so it turned out to be, with many people’s fancied band to grab the final spot Jackfield (Elcock Reisen) ultimately being squeezed into fourth place by Oddfellows Brass.

Oddfellows produced some bold sounds and a brisk tempo was evident in the ‘Scherzo’ - sometimes at the expense of clarity. The ‘Nocturne’ was marked by fine contributions from solo cornet and soprano though marred at the close by an unfortunate early trombone entry.

Having finished 3rd in the Second Section last year, qualification marks another fine achievement for the newly promoted band from Leicestershire.

Disappointment


For Simon Platford and Jackfield,  4th place will have come as a bitter disappointment as the band attempted to make a speedy return to the top section.

In the end it was not to be, as the First Section Butlins Champions displayed a fine band sound and generally taut ensemble, but were held back by a rather wooden sounding ‘Scherzo’ and tuning issues in the ‘Nocturne’ that undermined an otherwise carefully created sense of atmosphere.

Behind them came Shirland Welfare, Shirley and City of Coventry, and all had something to celebrate in their differing ways.

Given the young players around the stands in Shirland, Andrew Dennis and his team gave a remarkably mature reading with some impressive precision in the ensemble.

Whether the performance was aided by the somewhat eccentric performance from the band’s bass trombone player who appeared to adopt the role of sub conductor remains an arguable point, but this was a performance that the players can be proud of.

Musical intent

For Dave Lea and Shirley, 6th place was a somewhat flattering outcome from the number one draw, for a performance that although showing musical intent, lacked precision of execution.

City of Coventry
finished second last year and early indications would show that the band is likely to gain promotion to the Championship Section next year, a just reward for it consistency at Bedworth under Stephen Cooper.  

Foresters Brass 2000, Enderby and home team Bedworth Brass all showed moments of quality in their performances to claim top ten finishes, but were unable to maintain the necessary levels of consistency.

Despite slips along the way however all three bands gave themselves a clear platform to build on during the course of the coming year.  

From here on the standard fell away sharply and for Harborough, Hathern, Brackley and District and Foss Dyke, the error count accumulated at an alarming rate as their respective performances progressed.

Final four


Taking the final four positions Carlton Brass, Raunds Temperance, Wigston and Ibstock will have much to reflect on, with Second Section banding on the cards for at least two unlucky trap door victims next year.

If there was a message to be taken away from the First Section contest in Bedworth it was that ‘A Moorside Suite’ remains a true masterpiece of the brass band repertoire.

A fine test piece too, but most of all, simply wonderful music.

Maybe the old ones really are the best after all.    

Chris Thomas

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