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Report & Result: 2021 National Championships of Great Britain: Section 4

Nailsworth paints the best Elgar Portrait to be found in Cheltenham to claim the Fourth Section honours.

Cheltenham
  Anri Adachi takes the first National conducting bragging rights by leading Nailsworth Silver to the title.

It's not really known if Edward Elgar was a regular punter at Cheltenham Races, but given that the steeplechasing started in 1898 just when he was writing the 'Enigma Variations', he may well have placed a white fiver on a favourite or two at the bookies when he was down for the local Three Choirs Festival.

If he had been around on the weekend he would surely have backed the Nailsworth Band conducted by Anri Adachi.

Wonderfully considered

The West of England champion (based in the small Gloucestershire village less than 20 miles from the course) romped to victory thanks to a wonderfully considered interpretation of Dan Price's affectionate 'Portrait' composition.

It was a performance imbued with cultured tonality, balance, solo and ensemble security — and a huge walrus sized moustache full of Elgarian style.

The persuasive musical lead came from the middle, but was taken up with confidence by the players — led by the super 'Best Instrumentalist' flugel player Hazel Clifton and backed by colleagues from sop to percussion in an early marker performance that never really looked like being beaten.

Effusive

Little wonder the judges were so effusive in their written appraisals. "So much to admire", summed up Martin Heartfield, whilst John Maines marked out a "very good performance" that was "well played" and which thanked the MD for her "nice musical touches".

Jonathan Pippen summed things up to a tee with; "I very much enjoyed this. Well done MD & Band. Very Posh playing!"

Indeed it was: The very epitome of an Elgar portrait that revealed that behind the patrician demeanour of a well starched collar and waxed moustache lay a hidden passion for a bit of fun and occasional vice or two.

That was something Jonathan alluded to in his informed pre-results remarks; the basics of a well-groomed performance appearance having to be backed by carefully considered interpretive 'selling' to make it stand out for the judges in the box.

Overdone and it lost its poise, but underplayed and it hide its true character behind the Beecher's Brook sized topiary of the old man's 'tash. "The musical interpretations were different but worked with the best bands today," he said.

Key to success

That was also the key to Nailsworth's success.

"I really enjoyed working on the piece," Anri later told 4BR as she extended her record of wins to two from two (although some 18 months apart) after taking the helm in early 2020.

"I wanted to bring out the Elgar style without overdoing it and I was so proud of the way the players all responded in rehearsals and then on stage. Everyone played their part so this is a victory for everyone to enjoy — they deserve it."

The affection Anri is held in in by her band was also obvious to see as the players huddled around her to have their photograph taken for posterity and nab their own celebratory mini-bottle of 'Bandsman's Gin' which formed part of the prize.

Those deserved celebrations may have gone on for some time on Sunday afternoon — and may well continue at other contests in future given the collective confidence that was so obviously on show from first note until last. On this evidence they will be a band that will be highly competitive in the Third Section in 2022.

Not diminished

Even though the contest field was a smaller than usual this year due to Covid-19, its stature was not diminished in any way as performances of quality and credit were produced by each of the 14 contenders.

And although they were a clear winner, Nailsworth was pushed hard to the finishing tape — especially by runner-up Skelmersdale Prize led by Ben Coulson.

The north west contender delivered a cracking performance as the last band of the contest — full of detail, poise and character, whilst a little earlier Crosskeys secured a deserved podium finish with a carefully crafted account under Sion Jones aided by a fine set of solo contributions.

Just behind came the early draw top-six finishers of Hemel Hempstead, City of Birmingham and Spennymoor Town (who had the youngest player, Michael MacDonald in their ranks).

Excellent direction

Each produced accounts founded on excellent direction and based on the desire to capture that little bit of Edwardian reserve and front parlour affection that seeped through the music.

Dan Price's cleverly scored work had its nods and ciphers, direct and indirect Elgar quotes, but it also gave scope for conductors to carefully explore pacing and dynamic contrast.

The more successful bands (the top-six in particular) showed that in the treacherous opening section (which would have tested the nerves of players in the First Section) — just lifting the levels into the collective comfort zone.

It ensured that there was also much to enjoy from those further down the results list — all the way from BMP Europe Ltd Goodshaw to Linthwaite.

The differences in tempo choices and dynamic levels never spoiled the portraits painted, even if a few brush strokes did occasionally go awry in the opening lilt of 'Hollybush Hill', the tender elegiac melancholy of 'Broadheath' and the imperial-pink pomp and circumstance of the 'Worcester Cathedral' march.

Consistency

Consistency of execution played its part, but it was refreshing to hear a work that rewarded an emphasis on style rather than needless technical 'substance'. Every band will have benefitted greatly from working and performing it.

None though painted 'An Elgar Portrait' with quite the same sense of character and musical nuance as Nailsworth and Anri Adachi.

It was a winning performance that would have put a smile on the face of the 'eminence grise' of English composers (if you could have seen it behind that moustache) every bit as broad and satisfying if one of his occasional Cheltenham bets had come in at 10-1.

Iwan Fox

I wanted bring out the Elgar style without overdoing it and I was so proud of the way the players all responded in rehearsals and then on stageAnri Adachi

Result:

Test Piece: An Elgar Portrait (Dan Price)
Adjudicators: Martin Heartfield, John Maines, Jonathan Pippen

1. Nailsworth Silver (Anri Adachi)
2. Skelmersdale Prize (Ben Coulson)
3. Crosskeys Silver (Sion Jones)
4. Hemel Hempstead (Paul Fothergill)
5. City of Birmingham (Saphran Ali)
6. Spennymoor Town (Fiona Casewell)
7. BMP Europe Ltd Goodshaw (David Ashworth)
8. Tewkesbury Town (Andrea Price)
9. Amington (Alan Gifford)
10. Cwmtawe (Wayne Pedrick)
11. Trentham (Shaun Farrington)
12. Easingwold Town (Alistair Shipman)
13. Pangbourne & District (Stewart Lewins)
14. Linthwaite (Matthew Pilcher)

Best Instrumentalist: Hazel Clifton (flugel) — Nailsworth
Youngest Player: Michael McDonald (Spennymoor Town)

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