Vernon Building Society Poynton's success in claiming the Senior Trophy further confirmed the substantive progress the hard working North West band has made in the last couple of years.
Led by the talented Ryan Watkins, principal trombone of Brighouse & Rastrick, they were the "clear winner" according to the judges Ryan Breen and Dave Lea. Joining them in the Senior Cup in 2019 will be fellow qualifiers City of Bradford, Verwood Concert Brass and Shepherd Group. The remaining top-six places went to Tylorstown and Thundersley.
It followed a contest in which Gilbert Vinter's 'Triumphant Rhapsody' proved to be a fine test of style and controlled character in the lively acoustic of the Spanish Hall.
The MD's who kept control of dynamic excess and players who delivered the familiar lines of the score with confident brio were invariably rewarded, whilst those who couldn't (and no one really opted the 'shock and awe' tactic) found themselves propping up the results table as the judges struck a consistent line of informed analysis in an engaging contest of closely matched, but well defined margins.
Inconsistencies and high minor error counts from Laganvale, SPAL Sovereign Brass, Ebbw Valley, Strata Brass, Staffordshire and Drighlington mean they will now seek an immediate return to Blackpool through the various 2019 qualification avenues available from the Welsh Open to the Bolsover Festival of Brass.
"We really enjoyed our day in the box," Ryan Breen admitted in his pre-results summing up. "It's an inspirational piece in many ways and will still test bands at any level. We had a clear winner in what was a good overall contest, and I would urge all the bands to take what this piece has given you in the past few weeks and apply it again and again on a weekly basis.
It's a work that gives you much more than a one off contest performance — and taking it on board will be of great benefit."
The experienced Dave Lea agreed. Speaking to 4BR, he felt that Vinter's music remained an acid test of top flight competency. Having worked on all of them over the years (including 'Spectrum' in winning the European Challenge Section event this year), he was of the opinion that the performances on the day also showed the need for conductors to fully appreciate the refinement and skill of the writing.
"It's been hugely enjoyable, but also a reminder that we lose contact with Vinter's work at our peril. The best bands brought out the colour, detail, flow and wit of the music, making it come to life. We were impressed by the qualifiers and the winners in particular, but it was encouraging to hear that all the bands drew something from the score."
Few from a healthy sized audience who listened intently throughout the day would have disagreed with their findings — the fulcrum coming with the renditions of Verwood Concert Brass, VBS Poynton and City of Bradford who followed each other at the two-third point after the quality marker had earlier been set by Shepherd Group.
Each captured the spirit, character and intent of the music — from the notable key moments of grandeur to the lyrical interludes and the need to produce a glowing but balanced band sound. The furore of the last 12 bars became an endorsement rather than a last gasp effort to claim their qualification places.
That said, the top-six certainly gave the judges something to ponder in their different stylistic approaches, led by the efficient, cleanly struck lines of Vernon Building Society (Poynton) topped with a vibrancy engineered by Ryan Watkins that brought a modernist, classy sheen to their bravura interpretation.
So too City of Bradford, with Lee Skipsey once again walking a thrilling tightrope of rich musicality and showmanship as they eventually came second.
Never ones to settle for the norm, both charismatic conductors took informed risks with their interpretations that were deservedly rewarded; Poynton slightly less fevered with a touch of detached coolness that gave the music time and space to find its character; Bradford more passionate and lyrical, bold excitement engineered from first note until last. The pair will be a handful in the Senior Cup next year for sure.
The contrast with Verwood Concert in third was marked — but Kevin Smith also pulled out the stops in a slightly different way; a compact band sound and equally neat solo and ensemble lines sparkling with energy. An intense Alla Marcia section was a particular highlight as they marched to an equally well deserved podium finish.
The battle for the final qualification spot must have been a close run affair as Richard Wilton's informed interpretation just gave Shepherd Group the edge over Tylorstown and Thundersley. The colour and character shone through, and whilst little moments just detracted it was fine performance from a band very much on the up.
Tylorstown and Thundersley will have left for home a touch disappointed that they couldn't force their way into the qualification places, but they should be thoroughly heartened by performances rich in character and style.
The Welsh band certainly played with passion, aided by a superb display of principal cornet skills by Kevin Jones, who took the 'Best Instrumentalist' award — a wonderful belated 50th birthday present. Thundersley meanwhile also benefited from experience as Melvin White drew a rhapsodic take of the score to end in sixth.
Behind them came the usual minor problems of overheated tempos and dynamics, nerves and inconsistencies, although each of the midfield finishers gave performances of merit all the way down to the bands that didn't have the best of days or whose approach didn't resonate in the box.
Come the results however, it was VBS Poynton that lifted the Senior Trophy to further endorse their emerging top-flight credentials in the most triumphantly appropriate fashion. They will be a band to watch out for the rest and 2019 and beyond.
We had a clear winner in what was a good overall contest, and I would urge all the bands to take what this piece has given you in the past few weeks and apply it again and again on a weekly basisRyan Breen
The Senior Trophy:
Test Piece: Triumphant Rhapsody (Gilbert Vinter)
Adjudicators: Ryan Breen & Dave Lea
1. Vernon Building Society Poynton (Ryan Watkins)*
2. City of Bradford (Lee Skipsey)*
3. Verwood Concert Brass (Kevin Smith)*
4. Shepherd Group (Richard Wilton)*
5. Tylorstown (Gary Davies)
6. Thundersley Brass (Melvin White)
7. Easington Colliery (Jonathon Fenwick)
8. Marsden Silver (Andrew Lofthouse)
9. Unison Kinneil (Raymond Tennant)
10. Unite the Union (John Davis)
11. Eccles Borough (Mareika Gray)
12. East London Brass (Jayne Murrill)
13. Burry Port Town (Ceri John)
14. Roberts Bakery (Paul Lovatt-Cooper)
15. Laganvale (Metal Technology) (Keith Anderson)**
16. SPAL Sovereign Brass (Trevor Jones)**
17. Ebbw Valley Brass (Gareth Ritter)**
18. Strata Brass (Jonathon Bates)**
19. Staffordshire (Craig Williams)**
20. Drighlington (Neil Robinson)**
Best Instrumentalist: Kevin Jones (cornet) — Tylorstown
*Promoted to the Senior Cup