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Foden's Band

2019 RNCM Brass Band Festival
Conductors: James Gourlay & Michael Fowles
Soloist: Ian Bousfield
RNCM Manchester
Friday 25th January

It was Ian Bousfield’s remarkable interpretation of Wilfred Heaton’s starkly imposing ‘Trombone Concerto’ that brought the lunar words of American astronaut Buzz Aldrin to mind. 

It was music making of magnificent desolation.

And although National Champion Foden’s provided deeply ingrained substance, style and insight with their playing throughout an absorbing evening, it was his astonishing exposition of a single arc of loneliness, bereft of passion, yet somehow incredibly tender and beautiful that held a packed audience statuesque in rapt attention.

The mindset of Jean Sibelius (whose seventh symphony is also imbued with barren emotion) was touched upon in its opening notation, yet by its close we had heard a truly unique account of introspective invention. 

It was a stream of detached consciousness mirrored to perfection by the soloist.  The luckiest of listeners were left drained.

 It was a stream of detached consciousness mirrored to perfection by the soloist.  The luckiest of listeners were left drained.

Grandeur

To open, ‘Salamander’ provided an illuminating contrast; the familiar grandeur of McCabe’s earlier ‘Cloudcather Fells’ replaced by the glowing sparkle and explosive colours of falling chromatic fanfares and sulfurous ensemble textures. 

The second half gave us further, somewhat surprising contrasts.

Andy Scott’s immersive tribute to the great Foden’s cornet player Edwin Firth was an empathetic character portrait of a young man cut down in his prime.

The opening, chaotic battle scene that led to his death was used as a recall mechanism in 'Edwin' to draw inspiration from a quote of a former Foden’s bandmaster that ‘a better or kinder boy never lived’. Mark Wilkinson’s playing of an extended cadenza on Firth’s own 1902 cornet was an act of touching reverence.

So too Henry Geehl’s ‘Threnody’ (for Fred Mortimer); one intuitively shaped by Michael Fowles to bring a degree of pathos to a peculiar funeral cortege coloured with hints of past contest glory and military discipline leading to its final repose.

Pristine freshness

The concert ended with a gloriously idiosyncratic take on ‘The Severn Suite’ by James Gourlay - as if an old master’s painting, for too long covered with the dark varnish and dust of iconic acclaim had been restored to pristine freshness.

This was a pacey, daring Elgar; bubbling with barely self-contained emotion under his luxuriant moustache - the joyfulness of the music emerging from a score that has rightly or wrongly been constrained by the whalebone stays of Edwardian conservatism. 

Gourlay’s boldness certainly raised an eyebrow or two from traditionalists, but also more than a few smiles of delight from those thrilled by the MDs sheer hutzpah.     

The encore ‘Amazing Grace’ simply calmed feverish brows.

Iwan Fox   

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