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Report & Result: 2019 National Championships of Great Britain

Cory claim the National title with a performance worthy of the greatest Titans at the Royal Albert Hall.

Cory 2019
  Philip Harper and family enjoy another title winning celebration

On the day there was simply no-one who could deny Philip Harper and Cory their unquestionable status amongst the pantheon of great National Championship winning bands.

Thiers was a victory that stood shoulder to shoulder with any in the history of the event at the Royal Albert Hall.

19 rivals certainly gave of their best, wonderfully and contrastingly so at times, but in reality none came close to a truly remarkable display of crystallised virtuosity and characterisation.

It imbued their 'Titan' with truly heroic musical properties — not least of all at a level of performance consistency that no one at present can match.

In comparison, mere mortals, led by Black Dyke were bowed and beaten: There was a sense of deference about the results.

Fearless ambition

Cory's fourth victory since 2013 was fearless in its ambition, audacious only in as much that it was delivered with the collective cast-iron certainty of the manner asked of them by their MD.

This was a narrative masterclass: Philip Harper's 'Titan' a progressive everyman hero of refined, free flowing spirit; intrepid and daring in its sense of musical adventure, totally secure in its execution.

It was a heroic journey of wit, pathos and showmanship — packed to the gunnels with theatrical, detailed drama and an ending that had a daunting finality.

Response

As the final chord rang out it brokered a response from the audience that was both a seal of acclaim as well as an acceptance of the authentic greatness of what they had just heard.

It elicited the same response in the box.

"So commanding an interpretation and exceptional playing. So good!" wrote Rob Wiffen. Alan Morrison was equally impressed: "What music, what technique, what soloists. MD, that was musicianship of the highest order that took this contest to a new level."

Dr Robert Childs completed the triptych of title winning plaudits: "An inspiring and superbly exciting performance. Great conductor, great soloists, great band."

Ultimate endorsement

A little later it also received the ultimate endorsement of the composer of 'Titan's Progress' himself.

"It was just how I envisaged it would sound, when I wrote it" Hermann Pallhuber said as he waited back stage before the announcement of the results. "I offer my thanks to Philip Harper and his band. I couldn't have asked for anything better or more authentic."

For the MD, the superlatives were reserved for his band. "They just amaze me every time," he said as his players took turns to raise the huge silver trophy in triumph — perhaps the only time he wasn't in complete animated control of their actions.

"I ask more and more of them each contest, but they still surprise me. They are great people and great musicians. It's an honour to conduct them."

In response Gwyn Thomas, their stalwart former sop star summed up the admiration he felt was the secret to the band's second 'triple-crown' success of European, British Open and National Championship in the last two years.

"I've been fortunate to see some great conductors with us over the years, but Phil has an extra something about himself in terms of inspiration. It's staggering what he can do with this band."

It is indeed.

Challenge

At present Cory inhabits a tier of musical excellence, the reserve of but a handful of bands in the history of contesting. Their appetite for further success remains undimmed and unbridled. The challenge is now only to themselves.

Everyone else though now has it cast in tablets of contesting stone that they cannot hope to rely on good draw fortune (the contesting gods even saw to it that Cory didn't have to pick out the last draw number out of the bag) or occasional inspired brilliance alone to beat them.

They all have to take their performance levels to new heights.

Address

It was the subtext to Dr Roberts Childs pre-results address.

He spoke of a "great composition" that made for "quite an easy task"in the judging process, with "enough time"between the bands to come to a "unanimous decision". And where the "dramatic start was played well by most bands", the following 'Giocoso' was "less so", with the slow section exposing "intonation issues".

It was his assertion that the 'Con fuoco' was at times played at a dynamic level that lost "minute detail and clarity"and that the 'farandole' saw some bands lose the required style because they were "too aggressive" that brought a knowing nod or two of apprehension from some supporters of fancied contenders in the hall.

Wry eyebrows though were raised with his observation that some "rewrote"the 'farandole' to play it in 4/4.

The 'fugue' was "generally handled quite well" he said, but you sensed that his description of the "lap of honour for the best" was meant very much in the singular and not the plural.

Dyke come second

The results that followed saw a rejuvenated Black Dyke under Prof Nicholas Childs, precise and structured, come runner-up for the third time in a row this year, yet still end a well-defined margin in arrears (The judges later confirmed that Cory would have been at least two points clear).

Their 'Titan' walked upright through life — a little stiff in places with his movements, but full of confidence and purpose. On this evidence they are now Cory's nearest domestic rivals (with the European Championship in Malmo in 2021 to look forward to now after claiming the English qualification place).

Surprise package

Behind them, Whitburn, the surprise package of the day.

A month after they failed to register in the box at the British Open, here they caught the judge's ears with a subtle, understated reading by Garry Cutt which contrasted sharply with more visceral accounts that found favour around the hall.

The judges written remarks called it an "accurate", "self assured"and "a musical reading"– and on a day when there were clear observations made about re-writing and overblowing, that was the key to their success.

Sense of adventure

Elsewhere, Brighouse & Rastrick maintained their excellent Albert Hall credentials with an exciting, if occasional wayward rendition in fourth. David King brought a sense of adventure to the fore with standing trombones and soprano cornet as his 'Titan' swashbuckled its way to its conclusion.

Equally bold was Flowers in fifth, further enhancing their growing reputation for major championship solidity as Paul Holland drew a powerful rendition from a band that is gelling in coherent musical approach on each outing.

The final top-six place went to Leyland; a favourable draw to bolstering confidence as they returned splendidly to form to finish sixth under Thomas Wyss.

Crumb of comfort

Speaking to 4BR after the results, Dr Robert Childs confirmed that the top two bands were clearly defined, with Whitburn heading a group of five or six that were very close together.

That though was a small crumb of comfort for the likes of Tredegar, Foden's and Desford who many felt had provided high class renditions worthy of a top-six finish.

The Welsh champion certainly made an impression in the first half the contest, but perhaps were just too robust for the judge's liking, whilst the defending champion's elegant account had a brisk pace to it at times that may have lost the essential clarity the judges were looking for. Obvious moments of lack of cohesion between ensemble and percussion may also have cost Desford points.

Behind them came enjoyable, if contrasting interpretations.

Contrasts

Encouragement though for a re-emerging GUS as they claimed a solid top-ten finish just ahead of a confident Friary Brass Band, who remained on the cusp of the top-half of the results for a second successive year.

Meanwhile the symphonic approach of Zone One and the lyrical inflections of the cooperation band stood in contrast to the Titan's of artisan endeavour from Aldborne and Reg Vardy.

And whilst there was little surprise about the bottom four on the day (Carlton Main lacking confidence from the number 1 slot, with well-directed if somewhat underpowered accounts from Pemberton Old, Northop Silver and City Hull), each emerged on the credit side of the ledger.

There was surprise however with Grimethorpe — who for three quarters of the piece were confidently negotiating their way to a potential top-six finish under Dr David Thornton, only to suffer a collective crisis of confidence in the last quarter to lose energy and cohesion. Sixteenth still seemed harsh though.

With a few fancied runners failing to gain a mention, the results had a surreal touch about it at times, although there was warm appreciation for Cory soprano star Steve Stewart in claiming a richly deserved 'Best Instrumentalist' award.

Cory though was simply an unsurpassed Titan crowned in their National glory.

Iwan Fox

I offer my thanks to Philip Harper and his band. I couldn't have asked for anything better or more authenticHermann Pallhuber

Result:

Test Piece: Titan's Progress (Hermann Pallhuber)
Adjudicators: Dr Robert Childs, Alan Morrison, Rob Wiffen

1. Cory (Philip Harper)*
2. Black Dyke (Prof Nicholas J. Childs)**
3. Whitburn (Garry Cutt)*
4. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof David King)*
5. Flowers (Paul Holland)
6. Leyland (Thomas Wyss)
7. Tredegar (Ian Porthouse)
8. Foden's (Russell Gray)
9. Desford Colliery (Michael Fowles)
10. GUS (Chris Jeans)
11. Friary (Chris King)
12. Zone One Brass (Richard Ward)
13. the cooperation Band (Phillip McCann)
14. Aldbourne (Lee Skipsey)
15. Reg Vardy (Ray Farr)
16. Grimethorpe Colliery (Dr David Thornton)
17. Carlton Main Frickley Colliery (Luc Vertommen)
18. Pemberton Old DW (Ben Dixon)
19. Northop Silver (John Doyle)
20. City of Hull (Stig Maersk)

Best Instrumentalist: Steve Stewart (soprano) — Cory
*Top 4 qualify for 2020 National Final
** Qualify to represent England at 2021 European Championships in Malmo

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