2007 Norwegian National Championships - Third Division retrospective


If there was a disappointment on the weekend it was the Third Division which although it had a couple of top notch performances did feature too many bands with ambitions in excess of their talents.

Whereas the Fourth Division may have showcased what is fast becoming one of the strengths of the Norwegian brass band scene, by contrast the Third Division possible showed off one of its weaknesses.

Ambition is a great thing when it is realistic in outlook, but when it starts to cloud what usually is a pretty good sense of musical judgment then the problems really begin. That is what happened here, and even though there were two outstanding performances that deservedly took the two top prizes, elsewhere it was more a question of who made the best of some pretty uninspired choices for their bands to play.

Both judges, Paul Farr and Erling Myserth were generous in their praise for the efforts of all the band efforts, but they were very realistic too when we spoke to after the announcement of the results. Erling in particular felt that many of the MDs simply chose music that was too hard for them and failed to pay attention to the realistic ambitions of their bands. We were in full agreement.

The winners and runners up were in a class of their own – although they would not have been if the other 13 competitors had made more sensible choices of repertoire. It made life quite easy for Paul and Erling, although they certainly earned their money when it came to separating the rest of the bands out.

The winners were Musikkorpset Gjallarhorn conducted with real aplomb by Espen Westbye, the soprano player with the Stavanger Band (and what a good weekend he had!). They chose Philip Sparke's ‘Land of the Long White Cloud', a piece that was ambitious, but given the quality of the players and the interpretation by the MD seemed within their considerable capabilities. The opening sections were well controlled and that telling first entry by the flugel in the first fast movement was spot on and gave a clear tempo indication for the rest of the band to follow. What did follow was very good indeed and even though they did tire in the final few bars it was overall a performance of stature and one that deservedly took the honours.

Close behind them came Kopervik Musikkorps directed with a great sense of style by John Philip Hannevik. They showed here last year that they were a band in the wrong section by winning the Fourth Division by some margin, and although they didn't manage to do that this time, they still provided enough evidence to suggest they will also be strong challengers if they are promoted to the Second Division next year.

Their performance of ‘Trittico' was noticeable for the quality of their ensemble sound and the ease with which their soloists handled the tricky solo motifs throughout the piece. Both bands were well worth their prizes.

Third place was eventually taken by Skui Brassband directed by Henrik Dalhaug and although it didn't really stand out from a whole host of other bands that eventually filled the remaining top six places you could see why it was rewarded by the judges after they did display a neat sense of style and rhythmic control in Vinter's ‘Symphony of Marches' – a classic of it type and one still more than capable of spanking a few backsides especially at this level.  Not everything was quite what it should have been, but overall it was pretty good.

Such was the weighing ups of the pros and cons of each performance after the top three that it came as no surprise that Paul and Erling found it hard to separate some performances from each other. What was good with some was offset by what was bad with others and vice versa, and it would have taken the patience of a saint and the wisdom of Solomon to have really picked all the rest out in what would have been a satisfactory order. Paul and Erling can be proud of their efforts. 

Austrheim/Lindas and Grenland who came joint fourth both had their moments when the quality shone, but both had more than enough moments when it didn't too with their selections of ‘Royal Parks' and ‘Forest of Dean', two underrated pieces in the UK but popular choices here in Norway.  Both demand control and a sensitive approach (especially in the middle sections of each work) and on this occasion both just failed to recognize that need, although the outer sections of each was well played indeed.

There was little to chose between Rong, Borge and Fraena in the next three places either (although Borge and Fraena came joint 7th). Each produced fairly inconsistent performances that once more highlighted the desire but the also the lack of basic control, especially in the quieter moments in their choices. Rong went for ‘Kaliedoscope' by Philip Sparke and very nearly hit it bang on, although the quieter movements lacked that sense of balance and control that so featured in the top prize winners, whilst Borge suffered the same fate in ‘Connotations' that for all its up beat enthusiasm could not hide the basic flaws in its construction.  Fraena also suffered with failures in not allowing the music to simply speak for itself especially in the poignant middle section of ‘Royal Parks'. 

The further we went down the list the harder it became to square the sense behind the choices made by some of the bands. Some of the performances were excruciating.

Perhaps Michael Antrobus should have known better with ‘John O' Gaunt' that if you can't nail the trombones at the beginning it was going to be hard work all the way through, and although it did recover the battle scene never came to life and lacked balance between the soprano and bass lead lines in particular.  

Meanwhile Gjorvik struggled to make real sense of Leslie Condon's ‘Festivity', whilst Trondheim also found it hard work with yet another sub standard performance of ‘Royal Parks' that failed to realize the desperate lyricism required in the middle movement.  IMI Brass rather enjoyed ‘Romans 8 – a brass celebration' by Ray Steadman–Allen, although the approach failed to really appreciate the biblical setting of the work, and Nes Musikkforening didn't quite hit the mark with Bertrand Moren's interesting but somewhat over written ‘Ancient Monuments' that was full of ideas none of which really was brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

That just left the two of Frei Hornmusikk with a rather over ambitious ‘Laudate Dominum' and Rosendal Musikklag and their somewhat fraught ‘Sunset Rhapsody' by Eric Ball which didn't seem to capture the meaning behind the work at all.

The Third Division was the only really disappointing contest of the whole weekend here and went someway to show that there is still much to learn at this level for the bands and their conductors. All seem to be ambitious, which is great, but too many MDs have lost sight of what the abilities of their band really are. That is a pity, but can soon be sorted by some realistic reappraisal of the capabilities of each band – something that judges Paul Farr and Erling Myserth certainly took time in doing. Lets hope they take note.


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