Eric Ball's 'A Kensington Concerto' proved to be an elegantly treacherous test of long term British Open ambitions in what was a thoroughly intriguing, but ultimately disappointing Senior Trophy contest.
Its refined artistic credentials also provided a stark counterpoint to the temporary scaffold-lined sarcophagus that encased the 20 competitors and audience, although the Spanish Hall proved to be a pertinent acoustic ossuary for the terminally misplaced endeavours of bands that failed to appreciate its need for graceful stylistic nuance.
No doubt there were some that will have taken issue with the opinions of their performances by the adjudication duo of Paul Andrews and Ryan Breen, but in their defence, far too many conductors had only themselves to blame for not appreciating the composition's inherent elegiac characteristics.
A work of fond remembrance and of time passed, it was sometimes recalled with a blunt musical narrative straight out of a cheap airport novel.
No band emerged unscathed; few managing to get off to the type of 'simple' start demanded by the deceptively innocuous opening cornet stanza — one that way back in 1972 at the National Finals proved to be the tipping point for the legendary James Shepherd. And he played for the winning band.
46 years later those first eight bars once again proved a demanding assessment of principal cornet mettle — a test of character and confidence few will want to face again any time in the next half a century.
It also made for an onerous test for the men in the box: Paul Andrews later telling the audience that it had been a "very difficult task". And whilst he felt most bands had later "settled" into the piece, "stylistic issues" played their part in the success or failure to capture "the essence of Ball's wonderful music".
Ryan meanwhile confined his stage remarks to more general appreciations, but his observation that in our determination to drive forward we still need occasionally to look back to appreciate our musical heritage, was a point pertinently made.
In the end four bands "stood out" for them — led by Wantage Silver alongside fellow promotion qualifiers Derwent Brass, Elland Silver and Roche Brass.
And whilst Wantage eventually emerged triumphant, their experienced MD Paul Holland generously noted it was a result that once again proved that the composer's music remains a considerably under-estimated challenge.
"I don't think I've worked harder on getting the tone, balance and warmth of the sound of the band," he said as he reflected on a victory that takes the ensemble from near Reading one step closer to the British Open.
"Having adjudicated Eric Ball's music a number of times, you realise just how deceptive it is to master. We knew we made errors and mistakes on the day, but I still felt we would be in with a chance if we stuck to getting those essential elements in place."
It proved to be a prescient pre-contest move, as the judges certainly picked up on his approach (as well as the fragilities): "This was an MD firmly in control of every aspect of this piece. He or she had had a great empathy with Eric Ball's music", Paul Andrews wrote in his remarks.
Ryan Breen added: "A wonderful rendition full of energy, commitment, flourishes that excited and effortless musicality. Some errors, but none that really detracted from this riveting performance."
"Those comments were appreciated and shows that Eric Ball's music never loses its relevance," Paul Holland added.
"It makes that hard work on the basics so rewarding for a band that wants to make progress towards competing at the elite level. It's part of the steady progress I'm trying to implement with them — and one that they see as the key to long term, sustainable improvement."
Touch of surprise
The delight shown by Wantage's representative as she raced to the stage to collect the Senior Trophy certainly spoke of pride as well as a touch of surprise, and there were also a few raised eyebrows and puffed out cheeks of bewilderment when the final results were revealed on mobile phones through 4BR moments later.
They also showed that for Paul and Ryan it was a contest that in their opinion took considerable time to produce performances of potential qualification note.
The early marker came from Vernon Building Society off the number 4 draw, with guest principal cornet Stanley Westh from the Concord Band in Denmark taking the 'Best Instrumentalist' award for his nerveless opening and cultured contribution that eventually helped the band to end fifth.
And whilst the likes of Fishburn, East London Brass, Sovereign, Tylorstown and City of Bradford gained plaudits in the hall, they failed to find equally as receptive ears in the adjudication box.
In fact it wasn't until Elland Silver (drawn 14) that the duo heard something they felt fitted the qualification bill; with a confidently delivered account that just lost focus towards its close to eventually finish third.
It was soon followed by the late draw trio of Derwent Brass, who under John Davis gave their soon to retire MD Keith Leonard a near perfect send off with a lyrically inspired performance to finish runner-up, whilst the considered approach of David Hamilton with Eccles Borough saw them finish sixth.
Wantage then took to the stage, and despite a few anxious moments produced a cultured account courtesy of the MDs intuitive reading to claim the honours, whilst the Cornish contenders of Roche Brass showed their intent with a vibrant, if occasionally blemished rendition to finish fourth.
Behind the top-six it was perhaps a question of what might have been; with a plethora of inconsistent performances of varying stylistic and dynamic approach that certainly laid to rest any preconceptions about the 'difficulty' of 'A Kensington Concerto'.
There were certainly none with the judges — although some of the bands in the bottom reaches of the results may well fervently, but respectfully, disagree with their findings — including Bon Accord, Roberts Bakery, BTM, Unison Kinneil, Fishburn and Mount Charles who now have to regain their places on the first rung of the Spring Festival ladder at the various qualification events around the country in the next twelve months.
This was an MD firmly in control of every aspect of this piece. He or she had had a great empathy with Eric Ball's musicAdjudicator Paul Andrew on Wantage Silver's winning performance
The Senior Trophy:
Test Piece: A Kensington Concerto (Eric Ball)
Adjudicators: Paul Andrews & Ryan Breen
1. Wantage (Paul Holland)*
2. Derwent Brass (John Davis)*
3. Elland Silver (Daniel Brooks)*
4. Roche Brass (David Johnson)*
5. Vernon Building Society Poynton (Ryan Watkins)
6. Eccles Borough (David Hamilton)
7. Shepherd Group (Richard Wilton)
8. Tylorstown (Gary Davies)
9. City of Bradford (Lee Skipsey)
10. Ebbw Valley Brass (Gareth Ritter)
11.SPAL Sovereign Brass (Trevor Jones)
12. East London Brass (Jayne Murrill)
13. Marsden Silver (Alan Widdop)
14. Drighlington (Tommy Tynan)
15. Bon Accord (Stephen Malcolm)**
16. Roberts Bakery (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)**
17. BTM (Jeff Hutcherson)**
18. Unison Kinneil (Colin McKenzie) **
19. Fishburn (David Hirst)**
20. Mount Charles (John Maines)**
Best Instrumentalist: Stanley Westh (cornet) — Vernon Building Society Poynton
*Promoted to the Senior Cup