Brighouse & Rastrick returned to the apex of UK banding after winning the National title in a remarkable contest of intriguing musical portraiture at the Royal Albert Hall.
Led by Prof David King, they delivered a superbly characterised rendition of the set-work 'Gallery' as the last band of an engrossing day to pip Tredegar and take the title back to West Riding for a tenth time.
Defending champion Cory was close behind in third, with the heavyweight contenders of Fairey, Foden's and Whitburn filling the remaining top-six places.
And the word intriguing was the perfect adjective to describe the best performances of Howard Snell's masterful work, which rewarded a wide-range of interpretations that found favour in the adjudicator's box.
So too in and around the hall: As the audience waited for the results by enjoying the sounds of Tubular Brass, opinions on who had won centered on the quartet of Brighouse, Tredegar, Cory and Foden's, with equally passionate arguments heard for Fairey, Whitburn and Black Dyke.
Like a trip through an art gallery itself, the personal impressions that were heard spoke volumes for the way in which the composition had so expertly linked the portrait imagery and music together. It had made for one of the finest Nationals for many years.
However, it was Luc Vertommen, Phillip McCann and the composer himself who found their perfect combination from the last band on stage, with Howard Snell simply stating after the tenderly portrayed 'Love Story' movement from Brighouse & Rastrick — "You get it", before summing things up his written remarks with; "A very good performance. Fine playing and clever conducting! Thank You."
Meanwhile, Luc Vertommen called it "controlled and with passion", whilst Phillip McCann summed his feelings up precisely with the simple coda to his written remarks; "Thank you for the "music".
Pinched thumb and finger
A little later Phillip pinched his thumb and index-finger nearly together to illustrate just how close it had been, especially between the top two bands. He told 4BR; "It really was. Tredegar's performance took a clear lead (they played 16), but Brighouse just had that tiny bit more musicality for us.
There was so much imagination and musical character on show from both, but perhaps it was the 'Skating Minister' movement that tipped it. Brighouse had that perfect, amiable feel to the music, a waltz of such character and prettiness, just as Howard Snell asked for."
He added: "That was also what gave their solo cornet player (Kathleen Gaspoz) the solo prize. It was played with such delicate tastefulness even when he marked the score in asking for brilliance."
However, Phillip also paid his compliments to the other main challengers. "The top-six were well-defined for us and all gave impressive performances in their different ways. No one was unscathed, but it was good to hear so much musicality from the best.
I'm sure the audience enjoyed the piece as much as we did. Howard Snell's writing had such imagination: It was a wonderful combination of art and music coming together."
That was certainly something that was echoed by the winning MD Prof David King, whose only worry on joining his partner Rosie to celebrate on the stage with his triumphant band after the results was how on earth they were going to catch the last train back to Manchester for an early morning flight to Italy to enjoy a short holiday break.
"I'm very proud of them all — they were magnificent,"he said as he was besieged by his players. "It was an amazing performance. My thanks go to the band of course, but also to Howard Snell for providing a truly outstanding work. It was very special."
He added: "I believe we are building something very special at Brighouse, and with players such as Kathleen (Gaspoz) who I believe is the most promising principal cornet player in the world at the moment, and Dominic (Longhust) on soprano, who gave us such a beautiful start and also made a name for himself on this famous stage, it shows just what we can achieve together."
And whilst his immediate travel concerns to Manchester meant he would miss what promised to be a memorable night of celebration, the couple did cheekily reveal that they hoped to get the chance one day soon to take the famous silver cup back home to show off on the beach near their home in Australia.
"I think the trophy would look nice on the beach near our home on Byron Bay!"Rosie said with the broadest of smiles.
Few would begrudge them the opportunity such has been the impact David King has made on UK banding since he first conducted at this event 30 years ago, even if the majority of £2,000 first prize would have to be spent on insuring it.
Earlier in the day it was a confident Whitburn who set the impressive marker in a first half of a contest that was certainly something of a slow burner.
They carried on the excellent form of the British Open with a cultured account under Michael Fowles that set them apart from rivals, with only a very well-structured rendition from Redbridge catching their coat tails.
However, Cory and Philip Harper upped the ante just before the mid-point break with a riveting performance that brought the artistic imagery of the five portraits vibrantly to life, although some minor errors in the early movements left the gallery door ajar.
It seemed that Foden's had pounced with a wonderfully lyrical account after the break under Bramwell Tovey, although for the judges it was the pastille-hued colours of Fairey led by Garry Cutt that appealed more in the box, as they eventually finished ahead of their rivals in fourth.
However, Tredegar then seemingly placed at least one hand on the famous silver cup with a performance of immense detail and stylistic character under Ian Porthouse, aided by outstanding solo contributions (especially soprano, who Phillip McCann told 4BR was close to winning 'Best Soloist' prize) and vivid ensemble precision that was almost error free.
Any hopes of claiming the title for a first time though were to ultimately dashed — although not before they repelled the highly emotional challenge of Black Dyke (with MD Prof Nicholas Childs turning to the audience on the last note — something repeated by Lee Skipsey of City of Bradford immediately after), which seemed an almost visceral response to their unexpected result at the British Open.
Seventh place may not have been quite what Pondashers would have hoped, but any rumours of their and the MDs imminent demise had a significant touch of Mark Twain about it.
It almost seemed appropriate that it was to be the last band to take to the stage that was to close the gallery door behind them after a contest day that was as engrossing as any heard at the event for many years.
Despite the odd minor blemish, Prof David King revealed the evocative musical character of each portrait like an expert art restorer brushing off layers of dust and old varnish from the canvases to reveal the original image in all its glory.
The opening walk to the entrance was played with expectant confidence, followed by a bubbling 'Street Market', an almost Viennese-like 'Skating Minister' and a tender, distantly passionate 'Love Story'.
Approval and acclaim
The vibrant dissonances of the Matisse inspired 'Cut-Outs' led into the glorious panoramic ending, as the MD drew out every last amount of majesty from the score to secure his third, and Brighouse's tenth, National title. The announcement of victory was greeted with approval and deserved acclaim.
Elsewhere, 'Gallery' proved to be an inspired choice by Kapitol Promotions, with players and MDs talking about the remarkable challenge it posed, whilst a straw poll of listeners confirmed overwhelmingly that it had been a work that brought all too rarely heard elements of welcome contest musicality to bear once more.
Redbridge, City of Bradford and Minrow will have left delighted with their fine efforts in securing top-ten finishes, whilst those ending in midfield will have known that an accumulation of minor errors cost them the chance of coming higher.
Those at the tail end of the results table could have little cause for complaint, with noticeable defects robbing the five eclectic portraits of their character and style.
However, all that remains for Brighouse & Rastrick and Prof David King after this famous victory will now be to commission their own portrait artist to immortalise their victory for fans to gaze upon for years to come on the wall of their West Riding headquarters.
I'm very proud of them all — they were magnificent. It was an amazing performance. My thanks go to the band of course, but also to Howard Snell for providing a truly outstanding work. It was very specialProf David King
Set Work: Gallery (Howard Snell)
Adjudicators: Luc Vertommen, Phillip McCann, Howard Snell
1. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof. David King)**
2. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)*
3. Cory (Philip Harper)*
4. Fairey (Garry Cutt)*
5. Foden's (Bramwell Tovey)
6. Whitburn (Michael Fowles)
7. Black Dyke (Prof. Nicholas Childs)
8. Redbridge (Jeremy Wise)
9. City of Bradford (Lee Skipsey)
10. Milnrow (Mark Bentham)
11. Woodfalls (Dr Robert Childs)
12. Friary Guildford (Chris King)
13. Virtuosi GUS (Adam Cooke)
14. Reg Vardy (Russell Gray)
15. Hammonds Saltaire (Morgan Griffiths)
16. NASUWT Riverside (David Roberts)
17. Thoresby Colliery (Ian McElligott)
18. Tongwynlais Temperance (Ian Holmes)
19. Filton Concert Brass (Tom Davoren)
20. Co-operative Funeralcare (Allan Ramsay)
Best Instrumentalist: Kathleen Gaspoz (cornet) — Brighouse & Rastrick
* Top 4 pre-qualified for 2018 National Final
** Denotes qualification for 2019 European Brass Band Championships as highest placed English representative.