Whitburn ended their contest year as it had begun at Perth Concert Hall — with an imposing victory under the baton of Prof Nicholas Childs.
They certainly lived up to their pre-contest 'favourites' tag to claim the title for a fifth consecutive year, producing a high class rendition of 'Rococo Variations' that was not only a timely reminder of the type of quality they possess as an elite level competitive outfit, but also just how effective Edward Gregson's work was in showing it.
Whitburn did it justice; a flowing, noble start followed by a set of six variations each played with defined style and confident execution — the lyrical sections moulded with pensive subtlety, the quicker ones, including the final Fugal Scherzo, delivered with energy and precision.
The single point margin of victory may have been small, but it was still a significant class above the rest of the top-six finishers and a yearning gap apart from the majority of the rest of the field — many of who rather misplaced their ambition on choosing the same work.
Although this year has not been as memorable as 2017, with Whitburn struggling to make a significant impact on the results tables at the major events in Utrecht, Birmingham, London and Gateshead, on home soil (and it has to be noted, under the Black Dyke Director of Music) they remain an impressive standard bearer.
On this form it will be hard to see them disposed of their Scottish Championship title when they return here in a few months time.
Closing in on a century
As a delighted Prof Childs, who now edges ever closer to directing his 100th contest victory, told 4BR, it was a nice way to round off a personal year that somewhat mirrored that of the band.
"It's always good to return here to work with Whitburn," he said. "I've such immense respect for Edward Gregson's works and the way they are crafted. It's been great to revisit 'Rococo' again.
The band, which was so well prepared for me in advance, gave me just what I expected and wanted from them. It was a good way to round off a busy contest season."
For Whitburn's old rivals Co-operative Funeralcare (who has also endured something of a testing season) a solid and purposeful runner-up finish under Michael Fowles showed that they remain the closest challengers to their domestic supremacy.
Their 'Rococo Variations' may have just lacked that extra level of communal polish, but it was aided by a terrific reading from the MD and excellent individual lines (Solo euph Chris Flynn taking the 4BR 'Best Instrumentalist' award) of rich expression. If they can build on that ahead of their return here in March the single point margin of victory could well be over turned.
Before the bands took to the stage, Scotland's 'Auld Firm' may well have thought that the challenge from south of the border was to have come from well known sources, such as Rothwell Temperance or Rainford; but on this occasion it emanated much further south — all the way down to Wantage in Oxfordshire in fact.
Their super 'Rococo' rendition off the number 2 draw set an impressive mark, with Paul Holland's fine tuned reading of the score and confident ensemble delivery more than deserving of its eventual finish. They are an increasingly impressive top flight band.
Behind them there was joy for another emerging force in Elland Silver and Pemberton Old Wigan DW, both of who produced engaging, nostalgically hued accounts of 'From Distant Memories' to end fourth and fifth respectively, whilst the popular American visitors, Atlantic Brass Band snatched sixth place with a musical 'Distant Memories' that was faithful to the intentions and instructions of score.
Renton pulls no punches
And it was the ignorance of those elements from others that drew the ire of the judges — and in particular, Frank Renton, who for all his well known loquaciousness, hammered home the point with a level of clearly focussed rigour that would be well worth repeating time and time again at any top level contest in the UK and beyond.
There were no punches pulled: And whilst acknowledging the quality of the very best bands on the day, his overall assessment that our competitive desires too often lead to a misplaced amateurish appreciation of basic musical reading and interpretation was as welcome as it was damning in its accuracy — especially after what the duo had heard for the majority of time in the box.
This was no capricious rant; but one borne of professional frustration on hearing renditions that played fast and loose with what was actually written on the score: Tempi, dynamic, articulation, style, accents... good bands and conductors performing poorly in making contest playing judgements that lacked musical insight and value.
Frank Renton may not be to everyone's taste as a judge, but his assessment here from a viewpoint that looked beyond the misconceived necessities of contesting, provided a timely reminder that our perceived excellence is not always one that is universally shared by the wider musical world. He was spot on.
Some bands will have fervently disagreed with him — although even the much fancied pre-contest challengers of Rothwell Temperance and Rainford will have known, given that pre-results appraisal that their inconsistent 'Rococo' performances had put pay to their chances of success.
All the eventual midfield finishers — from EYMS to Northop Silver will also have surely noted their written remarks and what they spelt out — inconsistency in approach and execution undermining efforts, whilst below them the obvious differing levels of top flight quality were at times starkly shown.
On a day when bands had four major Gregson works to choose from, it was disappointing, if rather predictable that only two opted for 'Dances & Arias' and 'Connotations' — which in the right hands could well have been inspired choices.
Ambition exceeded execution in far too many cases on 'Rococo Variations' and 'Of Distant Memories'.
Not so with Whitburn however, as they deservedly claimed the Scottish Open title for a seventh time. On this form there may be many more to come.
Live action as it happened...
I've such immense respect for Edward Gregson's works and the way they are crafted. It's been great to revisit 'Rococo' againProf Nicholas Childs.
Saturday 24th November
Perth Concert Hall
Own Choice test piece composed by Edward Gregson
Adjudicators: Frank Renton and Steve Sykes
1. Whitburn Band (Prof Nicholas Childs) — 193
2. Co-operative Funeralcare (Michael Fowles) — 192
3. Wantage Silver (Paul Holland) — 191
4. Elland Silver (Daniel Brooks) — 190
5. Pemberton Old Wigan DW (Ben Dixon) — 189
6. Atlantic Brass Band (Salvatore Scarpa) — 188
7. EYMS (Stig Maersk) — 187
8. Fishburn (Lewis Wilkinson) — 186
9. Rainford Band (Gareth Brindle) — 185
10. Rothwell Temperance (David Roberts) — 184
11. Kirkintilloch Kelvin Brass (Charles Keenan) — 183
12. Bon Accord (Stephen Malcolm) — 182
13. Dalmellington (Nigel Boddice MBE) — 181
14. East London Brass (Jayne Murrill) — 180
15. Northop Silver (John Doyle) — 179
16. Kirkintilloch (Raymond Tennant) — 178
17. Newtongrange Silver (Andrew Duncan) — 177
18. Bathgate ( Dr David Thornton) — 176
19. Bo'ness & Carriden (Lee Skipsey) — 175
4BR Soloist Award: Chris Flynn (euphonium) — Co-operative Funeralcare