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Royal Northern College of Music Brass Band

Conductors: Dr David Thornton and Capt Peter Woffenden
Regent Hall
London
Friday 19th October

The RNCM Brass Band opened their welcome visit to Regent Hall with Judith Bingham's 'Four Minute Mile' - a timely reminder (in more ways than one) of her distinctive writing style for the genre; a pulsating work of shifting patterns and driving rhythms coloured by prominent vibraphone and xylophone voices. 

It was followed by Liz Lane's evocative 'Silver Rose'; inspired by poems sent from the First World War front by Isaac Rosenberg, two of whose relatives accompanied Liz as she introduced the work. 

Clarity and pathos

Captain Peter Woffenden of the Royal Marines is undertaking conducting studies at the RNCM, and his studious approach brought clarity as well pathos seeping respectfully from the score - right from the opening with two cornets placed in opposite corners of the gallery to the rear of the hall. 

Narrator Sam Snowden also maintained a fine balance between the stentorian and dramatic as the work evolved through a snowy landscape to the killing fields of Flanders and beyond.

The second section, led by percussion and low brass, was followed by a reflective passage featuring flugel and soprano as the writer spoke of '...a little breath making a prayer'.

These sentiments were match by the fine playing in evoking the 'sinister' feel of expectation and anxiety as the horrors of trench warfare came to the fore; descending lines running through the band, leaving the timpani to link into the final section played with a tangible sense respect – heads bowed in a musical eulogy to those lost.

descending lines running through the band, leaving the timpani to link into the final section played with a tangible sense respect – heads bowed in a musical eulogy to those lost.

Lush harmonies

Morley Calvert's quirky 'Canadian Folk Song Suite' was also a reminder of a unique, and at times, troubled compositional voice. 'She's like the Swallow', with its lush harmonies and a fine cornet solo from Luke Pallister was a highlight in a performance of textured character, aided by telling playing from the percussion team and bold excitement as the tempo was cranked up towards the end.

Herbert Howell's classic 'Pageantry' provided the substantive closing item; 'King's Herald' featuring crisp cornets and excellent work from the trombones, the 'Cortege' retaining its elegiac feel, moving with stately purpose to its final repose. 

'Jousts' was an ensemble challenge at times (although the opening call to arms was splendidly delivered), but ended with a sense of regal splendour to round off a fine concert that shone a welcome spotlight on compositional voices that we need to hear much more of on a regular basis.

Peter Bale 

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