Champions again - Redbridge enjoy a familiar celebration
You’ve got to take your hat off to Redbridge Brass.
Five consecutive London & Southern Counties titles, a personal hat-trick for Jeremy Wise and a total of nine victories in the last ten years: It’s some banding achievement by any standard.
It’s all too easy to level the argument that the competition isn’t as stiff in London as it is in other regions, but the indisputable fact of the matter is that it still takes a band of high class stability and consistency to do what Redbridge has done.
They have only missed out on a Royal Albert Hall appearance once in the last decade.
And as if to prove the point, this year’s contest in Stevenage saw the band do it the hard way; claiming a convincing victory on ‘Paganini Variations’ from the number 1 draw.
It set a high mark standard that endured in the mind of adjudicator Dennis Wilby, and one that couldn’t be beaten by the 11 bands that followed.
Free flowing confidence
The overall discipline that Jeremy Wise has instilled in his band has been a major factor in their recent successes - a confidence that was flowing freely through the player’s veins from the very opening variations.
By the time it got to its conclusion the playing had stepped up a gear or two - and was in the type of musical overdrive mode that is the hallmark of successful bands at the National Finals themselves.
Each featured soloist was on top form, with prizewinning contributions from Matt Baker and Chloe Mallett, but no less significant were euphonium Lisa Brill (who had a double whammy, staying on stage to help out Clacton-on-Sea) and soprano Martin Britt, who proved to be the outstanding instrumentalist of the contest.
There were fleeting moments in the ‘Funebre’ and ‘Romanza’ when more dynamic subtlety would have made it something very special indeed, but minor quibbles aside, Redbridge’s performance was both authoritative and bracingly exciting.
Now comes the challenge of reproducing it at the Albert Hall.
Zone One’s debut at the National Finals two years ago ended in a creditable 12th place, a result which they will hope to better on their return in October if they can reproduce this type of confident form again.
Their joyous reaction to the announcement that under Richard Ward they had sealed the runner up spot was understandable after they produced a rendition, that although lacking the visceral power and presence of Redbridge, was marked by a thoughtful, intelligently constructed interpretation that did not shy away from risks where the music demanded.
Those risks didn’t always quite come off, but the hushed dynamics of the ‘Funebre’ and ‘Romanza’ captured an atmosphere that no other band was fully able to replicate.
There were one or two moments were the ensemble was not quite in kilter, but with Rory Cartmell carrying off the prize for the best euphonium player for the second consecutive year, there was no doubt that they deserved their qualification.
Philip Bailey and Wantage Silver came very close to pulling off a major shock last year, finishing third, and if proof were needed that the band’s 2010 result was no flash in the pan they once again delivered a performance that was musically satisfying in its overall style, shape and delivery.
With solid individual contributions, it was the breadth of sound and ensemble accuracy of Redbridge and Zone One that pushed them into third, but with the fourth place band a good way behind, this was further confirmation that the region has perhaps found itself a new banding force.
With Peter Bassano having heard the work from the inside of the adjudicator’s box in Bedworth the previous weekend, Clacton-on-Sea’s 4th place was marked by a clear musical intent that was not always matched by accurate execution.
Insecurities in the ensemble were offset by a quality contribution from the band’s solo euphonium player, but inconsistencies aside, they will be delighted with a significant improvement on last year’s 9th place.
No less delighted will be reigning First Section National Champions Friary Guildford.
Their committed reading under Chris King didn’t always succeed in getting to grips with the intricacies of the score, and although they rather ran out of dynamic control in the final sections this was music making of considerable style and purpose. 5th place was well deserved.
Behind them came some pretty average performances.
KM Medway and Regent Brass will rue the fact that neither truly settled, despite valiant efforts from the respective soloists, whilst further back in 8th, Sandhurst Silver, imposingly directed by Ian McElligott, did just enough to ensure that their survival in the upper tier for another year.
The shock of the day was undoubtedly Aveley & Newham in 9th.
It was a result that comes on the back of a decidedly unsettled period for the band that has thrown up a bizarre mixed bag of results of late.
They are a better band than this, but on this occasion they can have few excuses.
It was as poor a performance from them here as anyone could remember in two decades or more.
Ninth was arguably a harsh outcome but Aveley’s was a reading of minimal subtlety, often brash, overblown and even rhythmically inaccurate; the cornets in the ‘Bolero’ a prime example.
The overall impression was of a performance that although not without flashes of form proved to be disjointed, lacking shape and confidence.
It remains to be seen if they can recapture its reputation as Redbridge’s main rivals in an area that can now boast at least two other rivals for the bragging rights.
Bringing up the final three places, Norfolk Brass, City of Cambridge and Milton Keynes (Broseley) all found the test piece to present a considerable challenge, although Norfolk Brass and Dave Stowell can consider themselves unlucky not to have finished a few places higher, after an uneven but committed musical effort.
Despite Milton Keynes having the help of Andy Duncan on Eb bass, they will be joined by City of Cambridge in the First Section next year.
Dennis Wilby’s good natured comment at the conclusion that the standard, 'was very high and six bands could easily have won', was perhaps a little over generous in the circumstances, but of the top three places there was no doubt.
The fortunes of some bands in the London & Southern Counties are clearly on the up, but the remarkable domination of Redbridge lives on for another year – and on this form, perhaps a few more years to come.