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Foden's Band

RNCM Brass Band Festival
Conductors: James Gourlay; Michael Fowles
Soloists: Rex Richardson; Lode Violet
RNCM, Manchester
Saturday 28th January

Foden’s rounded off a memorable festival day under the exuberant baton of James Gourlay and the slightly more subdued leadership of Michael Fowles.

The Scotsman set the tone as he sauntered onto the RNCM stage in white tie and tails to inject a high voltage pulse into Britten’s Coplandesque ‘American Overture’ - a work the composer had completely forgotten about for nearly 40 years. The question mark about it remained though to whether it was a neglected gem or a curious compositional detour.

Melodic hooks

Andy Scott’s ‘Freedom of Movement’ Trumpet Concerto also displayed its American roots; its groovy melodic hooks and jazz improvisations fused in a virtuosic performance by Rex Richardson. Aided by the excellent accompaniment the soloist swung and funked, bopped and multi-phoniced his way through its complexities with measured ease.  

Martin Ellerby’s ‘Genesis’ closed the first half - inspired not by the Bible, but his own deeply personal journey from darkness into light following a serious medical condition. This was music of immediate drama (the three sets of timpani the thumping heartbeats of impending fate) and less obvious pathos - as if the composer was looking back on his experience through a detached melancholic prism of reflection.

Measured manners

Following the interval came a delightful account of ‘The Graces of Love’ - all measured manners and dance steps before Lode Violet delivered an elegant display of lyrical cornet playing with Bramwell Tovey’s elegiac ‘From a Sepia Photograph’ - a work inspired by memory as well as homage to an age of brass banding enlightenment.     

Robert Bernat’s ‘Dunlap’s Creek’ was a tasteful aperitif to Howard Snell’s masterful ‘Gallery’ to close - preceded by the presentation of the British Bandsman Herbert Whiteley Award to the composer.

Artistic pilgrimage

A personal celebration of his love of art, and painting in particular, it offered a fascinating insight into his eclectic tastes - from the ‘jazz’ cut-outs of Matisse and the naive sentimentality of Caitriona Campbell’s ‘Old Couple’ through to the magnificent vistas of Loch Lomond by John Knox.

It was a remarkable artistic pilgrimage of style and inference, wit and warmth - each a portrait of the viewer as well as the viewed.

And thanks to James Gourlay’s own witty homage to the Trans-Atlantic theme (and not perhaps to the East Lancs Road football link between Manchester and Liverpool) the audience left with a lollipop in the form of ‘You Never Walk Alone’ arranged by Howard Snell. 

Iwan Fox

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