Cathedral Brass Concert


Enfield Citadel Band and Aveley & Newham Band
Chelmsford Cathedral
31 January 2004

Even from my last review in December the weather was still bad in Essex. Several trees had come down during my journey to the concert, and it didn't help that much of that journey involved going to Brentwood Cathedral. Yes, that's right, I went to the wrong Cathedral, but, like all good reviewers, I still got to the right Cathedral, in Chelmsford, with ten or so minutes to go.

Aveley took the stage prompt at 7.30 and the compare John Street gave the band a warm welcome dotting some of their recent successes and history. So in fine band tradition, someone kicked over a stand and we were off into Hora Staccato by Heifetz arr Goff Richards. This was extra lively start and would have any Ziggany on their feet toot suite! The cornet playing was very uniform indeed (given the acoustic as well, which was not as bad as some might of thought), a little more exaggeration on the fp's for me, ta! As always, with this type of solo, the lower semis at the bottom of a run need more projection, although aurally just about there. A good unison "Oi!" in the 2 nd subject area and still thoroughly exciting, and to finish it, a monster top C from soprano Andy Bannister which destabilised one of the main transepts, plus hanging it on for good measure by point 3 of a second longer than the rest of the band in true sop style. Tony Blair need no longer search for his WOMD, Aveley has it Tony! Great finish.

Next on the cards was Postcard from Mexico by Howard Snell, my old mentor from RNCM days! Now, I'm always up for a bit of knowledgeable banter from comperes/MD's as I do it myself now and again. But for E.G. describing all other modern contemporaries composers/arr alongside Mr Snell as, "the also ran" now come on? Howard is a great arranger, his compositions are far fewer, and this one comes right out of Howard's top drawer of observational compositions. ‘Postcard' is a direct cross (even quote-like) of El Salon Mexico by Copland, and a lesser-known work called Estancia by Alberto Ginestera, and, one of the only recordings done of the latter was by the LSO circa 1975. So, we'll call this an observational composition! Basses a little more stacc for me at start, great FX from the trombone section very loud to pp. The percussion has been down to the hardware store, bought the lot, and using it to great effect. Love the slow section here; very warm bass section and very smooth cornets, nice semi-tone clashes in the accompaniment right out of El Salon, love the sombrero act from flg & solo horn glued in togetherness. Speeding off again, very sharp attack from troms in their three's against band two's. Lose some of the fast top arpeggios in the cornets (down to acoustics); the percussion really have been fab througoht - a great finish. Well received by the audience although a little subdued given the nature of the piece.

1 st Soloist on the grill pan, Andy Bannister on soprano with Solitaire by Sedaka (arr. Cody). After a solid calm opening from the band you are aware straight away that Andy is no ordinary player; such a controlled vibrato; long lines; breath control; grat stuff. I'm not sure that this particular number is a great vehicle for a soprano, but Andy sells well. Towards the end it became a little stilted, and then the band stopped for Andy to finish on a fairly unsubtle (I mean in a cerographic sense) high one, to which the band returned to support his fantastic sound! I always find pop song/ballad material hard to swallow with bands, especially as a solo, but let's thank Andy as it was played so well!

So, Mr Snell back to the platform, and this time featuring the percussion section in Howard's arr of ‘Tea for two'. Great overdone vibrato from trombone - all very tongue in cheek; a very dexterous two skeletons (xylo's), and how did he tune that vibra-slap so well in the slower section? Even the wood blocks sounded tuned. Great dynamics all round from pp to ff. Nigel Taken's conducting here is very precise and defined. To finish, a very comical long gliss down ending on the bass trom. This was an all round stunner, especially for percussion. The audience is now opening up a little more.

Next. ‘Ejala', by Jan Magne Forde. John Street told us about the Norwegian brass group touring in Africa giving concerts and working with children and as the percussion started, you could see the plains of the Serengeti; the heat rising from both bush and sand. Calm, yet stultifying hot. A very warm bass enters, long and languid, the little cornet rhythm interjecting - almost percussive in nature. The band now gets louder in unison plain song harmonised in 4ths/5ths, over a bridge-linkesque into a big band/jazz feel. And then, they sing, and once more in African/Swahili! The tutti voices could have been a touch louder, but hey, they play brass! Well sung in two and four parts. The audience really liked this one.

OK Tony, and ladies, the WOMD are definitely here now, ownership now being claimed by the compere Mr John Street. I never make notes when I speak mainly because, A. One has to look at them, and, B. If you have to make notes, the chances are you made them because you can't speak without them. And C. When you do run out of notes and still need to speak, you are then bound to drop a perler! "Years ago in bands, there weren't very many ladies". How this came into deliverance, I wasn't quite sure, but we finished up with, "and now, here they are today in bands, helping out". Well thanks for helping out girls. Perhaps I'm being unfair & unkind; it's not easy to speak in public.

Irish Blessing, by Joyce Eilers Bacak, arr. S Bradnum. What a fantastic arrangement this is. It started with quartet, with a very close unison - not bang on I'm afraid. However, the sounds were closely matched even down to vibrato, very rounded and warm and the band came in at piano without a sign of a bump. The crescendo was to die for; a wonderful homogenous bass noise. A lovely rising sop, but perhaps flugel - 4 from end - could have been a little quieter, given the landscape. Lovely pedal, basses!

Now for a banding favourite. The Finale form Tchiakovsky's Symphony No 4, arr Ashmore. This started with such a wallop, and the woman in front of me rose several inches out of her seat. At a good crotchet 140+, Nigel launched the band in complete togetherness before the music moved to the Russian folk tune. A great sop entry on a high B at p . Semis are very well controlled in the cornets (less so in one exposed bass bit for two bars) and again bravo basses. All the voice entries around the band are well balanced. Back comes the fanfare from the 1 st Movement, a fanfare of doom in the minor key - all unison sections well played. Back up to speed now, after a great build - dynamic wise. How many top Cs has this soprano played now? What a blow, what a sound: the audience goes wild (and about time). Look out for this band contest goers!

Next item, not on programme, a massed bands offering as Enfield took the stand. Aptly (considering the weather) chosen, we were treated to Peter Graham's ‘Gaelforce' – excuse the pun. Off into an Irish dance style ¾ bodrahn's a-go-go, little yelps/cries of encouragement to the would-be dancers, then an Irish mist descended, a peace, wind chimes, sub bass, then, on flugel, "Minstrel Boy" - a definite tear here, beautifully played, then the 2 nd flugel solo entry – not quite warmed up I feel. This really makes you want to get up and dance - it's so infectious. Some more impressive soprano work leads to a powerful end! Very enjoyable. The audience are very happy.


There I was, chatting away to a happy when annoyingly, it seemed, someone started to warm up quite loud, in that spare nano-second you think, "bandroom soloist" and the next second, you realise, that's the flugel player, he's starting "Light-Walk" and, from the middle of the Cathedral, the trombone joins, then another and another as they make their way to the stage. What a way to start the 2 nd half, more arrive to the stage. This band is really swing'n like Stan Kenton, MD James Williams joins, what a huge euph sound Great style - real radio days type of noise. Audience ready to eat out of their hand!

The 100 year old band was properly introduced by the compere. The Enfield Citadel Band were originally Tottenham based, and the MD had indeed spent many years with the band in several roles, and you don't get MBE's by not trying hard, but banding had obviously agreed with James as he was to be 80 years old next week, and he didn't look a day over 59!!

First on the stand, Festival March-Rolling Along by W Himmes. A quick March with US style overtones, very good low dynamics perc & sop, I like the balance throughout - it's tight, rhythmical and played with zest. Tune-wise (as marches go) it was a bit of an egg in a forgettable way, but the playing was hot & precise.

Next up, a real banders fave, probably the only real banders bander piece on the whole prog tonight? "Le Forza Destino" & mine's a Stella! Again, we were portioned out some real dodgy gruel from our compere re: Composed 1861, erm no, 1862 and: "He was composing opera at a time when opera wasn't that popular" . But, he was right in saying it was first performed in St Petersburg as it was a Russian commission, but one fascinating bit of info he left out was that, when Verdi took the journey to Russia for the premier his luggage contained 120 bottles of Bordeaux and 20 bottles of champagne. It's a good job he did too , as the opera got panned out the to the Gulag!

Great unison, in tune to start, bang on! Little slip/clip from sop to start but recovers well, flugel solo very secure, solo cornet and trombone match very well in unison. Tremalando's start a little too loud for me, euphonium and flugel well matched also, ostinato figure now a little gruff in basses, the big tutti now, great sop, cornet section detail is brilliant, little clip on sop 1 st note in here. This all sits very well, chorale section a little too detaché for me (matter of taste though). The big tune now comes in, excellent noise from the tutti and again sop! Coda tune now a little stilted in the solo cornet needs to flow a little more I think the tempo's a shade slow. Soprano now a little too loud. Accel to end now - cornets rise to it, and some very silly notes from the soprano. Audience love it. A huge job, bravely done.

2 nd soloist to be grilled was principal euphonium Andrew Hicks who played "The Better World" by Norman Bearcroft. From the off, dexterity was an every day word for Andrew, interesting bell effects from cornets & glock, Andy has a lovely direct whole sound, fingers and articulation spot on, now this piece is going high and still in semi-land at crotchet 140+, one or two tiny fluffs (hardly there for the noticing though), bit of a stop for a cadenza, Andrew's low register is also a wow, nice large juicy changes of dynamics in the cornets from f to pp , now some pyrotechnics gliss-wise from Andrew. This is an interesting piece, more like a mini concerti. Into the slow section now - euph much lower in register. I'm looking for a solid based tune now in this composition and we seem to have nothing to go on. The fast theme now arrives in a more classical style, 3 rd section take off at speed in a Scottish dance style, really neat semis at speed here - very tidy playing. Fanfare at end, lots of trills for euph, high then low, and he finishes in top-zed land around the E's somewhere. The piece was a great vehicle for Andrew's astounding technique, but as a piece of music even though for a solo instrument, it's still a piece of music; and on that scale of judgement, the composition was a bit waffley, but exciting waffle.

Another blessing in disguise was in fact another blessing, this time disguised as a Gaelic Blessing. Composed by Rutter (that famous twister of Christmas carols) arranged for band by John Meredith. The first two bars too close to the Irish Blessing I thought, but now moving away from any similarities, the euph has some awkward high arpeggios as an accompaniment to a well played flugel solo. Some tasty harmonic shifts are well negotiated for full effect by real accurate conducting, making sure that the changes hit the bar lines to full effect balanced against tempi. The end was a complete morendo, so much so, the audience could not spot the end silence from the playing, so I had to start the applause. And well deserved it was too. Great musical control throughout.

The next offering was a tone poem (Richard Strauss?) erm, no. Truth A-flame by Kevin Norbury, which I guessed to be an SA epic based on a religious experience/story. Anyway, one thing was for sure, Kevin had never seen/heard Star Trek, as he happened to choose those exact notes from the show, I mean exactly just how it starts, which is fair enough if you've not heard Star Trek, it's quite easy to come up with the same combination of notes. There were some fine cluster chords from muted cornets, well balanced and juicy in harmonic texture, nice bass also. Then, fast tempi using those Star Trek notes. The quavers are sharp and punchy, time changes well negotiated, very tight! Now, mixing music types as in a poppy to a jazzy style into a USA Country/ranch music and back on with the tune. Nice flying semis from euphonium and bass. Tasty, muted, bass trombone. I'm now wondering (again) what all these bits and bobs tie up to in this piece. We pause, someone in audience thinks it's finished and claps – and we're off again with those punchy quavers. Very good semis cornets, big band type sound now, and a fugue, starts with euph, then to bass, fugue stops. Cornets turn out delivering photon torpedo broadside from the Enterprise and wow, gear shift number 103 and into hyper-space. Audience loved it. Bit of a Heinz 57 composition though Kev!

Not on programme, a March, Dean Goffin I thought I heard. Very traditional style, nice solo cornet semis - mp and relaxed. Good low dynamics and nice euph obligato. Then f bass solo, trombones stand and point out, extreme low end of tune could do with a bit more pump! Euphoniums stand (and baritones) for trio - nice and legato. To the end now - cornets stand at fff - all the band faces front in a glorious unison.

Massed item now and Crimond arranged Peter Graham. A unison opening, which was very close (in terms of unison, but one half of the mass had been cold for 40 minutes). Low end takes tune first, smooth lines here, good sop obligato, horns carry tune well, moving on to unisons and now cornets have the obligato and band carries tune. Wagner steps in for a bar or two while the sopranos have gone a bit mad in terms of dynamics. Whole band down to a p + added 6 th , super control here, just super! A fantastic noise.

The last item, massed, was the tone poem "The Kingdom Triumphant" by Eric Ball - a large religious romp. Big roll into a Romanesque fanfare right out of a big Jesus film epic, "The Robe/The Greatest Story Ever Told/Ben Hur" that style comes to mind - music by Dimitri Tiompkin. It's rather over dramatic here in auganum 4ths & 5ths. Euph's plainchant here with, "Israel/Rejoice Emanuel" shades of that Christmas tune. Great trom chords in 4ths "Israel/Emanuel" muted cornets are tight, but sounding tired. Trombones blurt again with a Tchiak-4 like fanfare. Nice gear shift via timp roll, basses now have the "Israel/Emanuel" motif and there are definite shades of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast in this (the quieter soprano-sung sections). We are now into the rolling hymn in band sections. The tutti hymn in harmony at ff is a great sound, a grand sound. But by now, the piece has gone a little too far not saying very much. A big blowout coda, sopranos finishing a good third higher than they should (I reckon) and hanging it on for good measure.

All in all, it was a very good night out, Both bands have a great talent and have a wonderful sound for this part of the world in the south east. They have great technique and sparkle and no doubt, the audience went home happy and stimulated in one way or another.

Phil Lawrence