Perfect smiles for Cory on Paganini
Cory couldn’t have wished to inscribe their name on the Welsh Regional Trophy in any more of an emphatic manner than they achieved at the Brangwyn Hall.
Not for the first time here they produced a performance on an iconic test piece that David Read MBE has thought unsurpassed: A few years ago it was on ‘Salute to Youth’, this year it was on ‘Paganini Variations’.
Run out of superlatives
The most experienced adjudicator in the banding world had run out of superlatives – and he said so on his written adjudication.
His announcement from the stage prior to the results may well cause a few hackles to be raised in other parts of the country – notably in the North West and Yorkshire, where first, Foden’s and then Brighouse & Rastrick produced performances that will live long in the memory banks.
It raised the odd eyebrow or two in Swansea it must be said too.
Like those winning renditions at the Winter Gardens and St George’s Hall, it wasn’t a flawless rendition – an opening bar that clunked into gear certainly gave fleeting hope to their rivals on the day.
However, the moment passed, and once that two second window of uncertainty was slammed shut, it was a return to the Cory of old – the 2009 vintage of immense ensemble detail, razor sharp execution and high class soloists.
Chris Thomas on solo trombone led the way with a personal performance of thoughtful musicality, whilst the growing leadership qualities of principal cornet Tom Hutchinson was clear to hear.
The established stable of solo stars all delivered – notably Bert Van Thienen on soprano, whilst the ensemble playing was earmarked by an immense sense of security – at both ends of the dynamic range.
Back in the Childs grasp - the MD with the Welsh Regional Trophy
At its centre was Dr Robert Childs – a conductor who does not rely on the theatrics of banding direction, but still emits the same vice like control over what is produced by his players.
Close to the peak
At its conclusion there was no emotional eruption as was seen at Bradford for Brighouse, but there was certainly a genuine evocation of appreciation from supporters and rivals alike.
Everyone present knew they had just listened to a performance by a band and their MD, close to the very peak of its powers: Much like David King at Bradford and Allan Withington at Blackpool, Robert Childs basked in the brilliant afterglow as the applause rang out.
For David Read it was the very zenith of ‘Paganini’ brilliance.
Not to miss
Despite the National Finals missing Black Dyke and Grimethorpe, you wouldn’t want to miss the battle that will be store in Kensington when Cory lock horns with Foden’s and Brighouse on the form the trio have already shown this year.
There was no doubting the clear cut victory – despite the quality renditions from Beaumaris, Tredegar and Tongwynlais that filled the top four places behind them.
If there was an odd eyebrow raised at his opinion on the winner’s performance, there was an audible exhalation of breath when the British Open champion was announced in third.
Best Instrumentalist - Cory's Chris Thomas
Tredegar was not without error under Ian Porthouse – two noticeable ensemble clips in particular tarnishing the deep veneer of musicality that had been created by the excellence of their ensemble playing and the solo work of the euphonium and flugel.
For David Read, it was a performance that was beatable – comfortably so by Cory, less authoritively perhaps by Beaumaris under Gwyn Evans.
By the time the North Wales band took to the stage, many believed the game was up: Cory clearly in front, Tredegar comfortably in second, Tongwynlais in a secure third.
That was perhaps based on the fact that the three performances in question came right at the beginning of the contest.
Tongwynlais delivered a colourful, robust, and at times, excitable ‘Paganini’, under Philip Harper.
Although variable in ensemble execution it was never less than engaging, and at times engrossing – especially the sublime flugel playing in the ‘sospirando’ by David James.
Other quality solo contributions gave a glossy veneer finish, but the ensemble playing wasn’t always of the same security or musicality.
Mature lead from Cory's Tom Hutchinson
Tredegar followed with their contrasting performance – full of ensemble security and a sospirando that drew the listener to the edge of their seat, but the cracks in the polished musical veneer were marked, and in the opinion of David Read, left it vulnerable.
Northop’s enjoyable performance under Thomas Wyss never quite sounded as if it had enough quality in the ensemble to back up some well delivered solo lines, whilst BTM under Tom Davoran delivered a ‘Paganini’ that was dynamically incoherent.
A London bound smile for the Beaumaris principal cornet Nicholas Hughes
Heart not head
Whereas the North Walians delivered a reserved appreciation of the score, their counterparts tore into it from the word go with an adrenaline fuelled performance that started to waver as the players gave of their all, before ultimately (with standing trombones) boiling over into an ill disciplined mess:
The BTM player’s desire to give everything to the cause was palpable, but it came from an over-emotional red blooded heart rather than a clear-cut cold blooded head.
Plenty to do
Beaumaris still had plenty to do to force their way into the reckoning for London.
Gwyn Evans certainly using his ice cold calculating brain though in placing his powerful soprano cornet in the bottom third cornet seat, so that his young cornet section didn’t have to resort to overblowing in the ensemble sections to match the impressive work that was still heard with clarity from Bari Gwiliam's bell.
Secure solo lines, subtle changes in variation pace and a balanced ensemble dynamic all added up to an impressive whole, and whilst it was for many in the hall an each-way bet for a podium place, it was a performance that certainly resonated in the box.
The vocal squeals of delight form a North Walian enclave in the corner of the Brangwyn Hall spoke volumes to just how happy they were that they had qualified for the finals for the first time since 2004, although the decision fully justified a modest MDs boast to 4BR at the Norwegian Championship in Bergen at the beginning of the year that he was bringing a very confident young band to the contest.
Looking out for Tredegar's solo euphonium
Brave but weary
With Markham & District delivering a brave, but ultimately weary performance under Adrian Morten to close the contest, all that was left was for the announcement of the results.
A good First Section band was taxed to the very limit and at times beyond by ‘Paganini’.
Dispell the illusion
There is an undoubted illusion surrounding Welsh banding – and one that despite Cory’s immensely impressive success, will only be dispelled in the minds of their main English rivals if they can now go on and win the National title for the first since the Millennium.
It may have to take another ‘finest ever’ performance at the Albert Hall to do just that.