Despite being an extremely stern test of the bands in the Third Section all, Philip Wilby’s, ‘A Little Light Music’ has undoubtedly been a popular test piece with both performers and listeners alike.
Great little gem
It’s a great little gem of compositional technique - his expertise at writing pastiche is at its most transparently effective in the ice cream ‘tarantella’, but it is in the central ‘Romance’ that you hear echoes of less immediate, more sublime influences.
Wilby’s skill is such however that for some reason you cannot quite pinpoint the immediate lyrical references (the Rossini is a given in the Neapolitan romp), so that even in performances that are unable to deliver much more than the notes on the page, there is always something to hold your interest.
At times that was the case here, but as Major Paul Norley clearly pointed out, by delivering the basics, the music almost played itself.
He was generous in his remarks – gaining fans aplenty with his assertion that the standard of the better bands here was amongst the best he had listened to on his travels.
Thankfully, the audience was treated to half a dozen performance of real merit, with the top four in particular, classy renditions – made more so by a quartet of musically intelligent MDs, who knew just what pace to take that ‘tarantella’ so that it could be played with a degree of zestful spirit as well as ensemble comfort.
The markers were set earlier, with Hangelton under Richard Baker delivering a high quality account off the number 2 draw that certainly made you sit up and listen from the word go.
It contained bold cornet fanfares leading into a bright ‘Clog Dance’, warmly hued ‘Romance’ a fizzy ‘tarantella’ and solid reprise.
No wonder they wore smiles as bright as their ties.
It was a very confident bit of playing to take them back to the finals for the second time in four years.
Style and substance
Although Hangleton must have known they played well, they must also have known that they were going to be hard pushed to claim the title itself after BAE Systems took to the stage just two bands later.
The experienced Keith Woodger opted for style as well as substance, and was rewarded when his players delivered both in spades.
A great opening was followed by a lively ‘Clog Dance’ and lovely ‘Romance’, before a pacy, but not over cooked ‘tarantella’, was topped off with a touch of pomp and poise to the reprise.
It gave the band from Rochester their first lower section finals qualification since 1999.
One this form it won’t be their last.
The last performance really to capture the musical imagination came from Chalgrove, who can consider themselves very unlucky that there were only the two qualification places up for grabs.
This was confident, composed playing, and whilst it did just get a touch robust and the ‘tarantella’ just got a little scrappy, there was plenty to sit back and enjoy with Terry Brotherhood’s interpretation stylish and engaging.
Any immediate disappointment of not getting to Cheltenham was offset by the news that the band will now be promoted to the Second Section for 2012.
The remaining top six places went to three bands that delivered performances of merit, despite not having the overall level of ensemble consistency or the quality of main solo lines that was evident in the podium finishers.
Of these, Battle Town on their debut in the Third Section made the most of their opportunity to impress the man in the tent (which he noted in his remarks by saying there was little between the bands that came 2nd, 3rd & 4th).
Neat and tidy with a sense of style in each of the sections, it just lost its focus in the finals moments of the ‘tarantella’ and its segue into the reprise, which sounded a little dislocated.
Overall though it was a performance to be proud off from a rapidly rising band.
Wantage Silver and Watford meanwhile will know that they just couldn’t quite maintain the level of consistency required after delivering such good starts.
Little clips and blips in both ‘Clog Dances’ were offset by warm musicality in the ‘Romance’, but the ice cream ‘tarantellas’ were a touch sloppy, so that the final reprise came a little too late to make up the lost ground.
As with the other contests on the weekend, the standard became more variable with the midfield finishers and below, but there was still much to enjoy with the performances of Crystal Palace, Hemel Hempstead, Cold Ash and Hitchin Town.
Each started well enough, but with unforced errors and some poor intonation, the neatly portrayed musical portraits were just tarnished once too often - although there was some lovely horn playing in Crystal Palace’s performance that certainly caught the ear.
Hit and miss
The bottom three bands gave rather hit and miss accounts it must be said – sometimes more miss than hit.
However, when things did knit together with Tadley, Woodbridge Excelsior and Jubilee Brass (Oxford) there was a neat sense of style and a lightness of touch, especially in the ‘Clog Dance’, although that was offset by poor intonation in the ‘Romance’ and some scrappy old bluffing in the ‘tarantella’.
Credit not debit
Each band emerged with more marks in the credit side of the ledger than the debit side though, and with plenty to work on for the future.
This was a tough ask of all three you suspected, but the desire to play more than just the notes saw them deliver performances of merit.
That was certainly the case with the winners and qualifiers, both of who could well be something of dark horses for high place finishes come the finals.