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Foden's Band

British Open Champion, Michael Fowles and Sheona White bring an absorbing infusion of musical flavours to the opening concert of the RNCM Festival.



Conductor: Michael Fowles
Soloist: Sheona White
RNCM International Brass Band Festival
Friday 26th January 

Music informed by character, myth, conflict, geography and even political critique saw Foden’s provide the thoroughly absorbing opening concert of the RNCM Festival weekend.

The international focus was expansive; the English bookends of Malcolm Arnold and Percy Fletcher contrasted by works from composers from Hungary, Argentina, Germany, Belgium and Northern Ireland via the USA. 

It opened with ‘Fantasy for Brass Band’  – a stylish amalgam of Arnold’s intermittent genius which by 1974 was corroded by personal troubles; the commission a temporary and swiftly written boost to stretched finances, its elements of melancholy and playful wit mere glimpses of a huge talent denuded by drink and depression.   

As he did throughout the evening, Michael Fowles treated the score with huge respect – his approach drawing fresh colouring from a faded canvas.

As he did throughout the evening, Michael Fowles treated the score with huge respect – his approach drawing fresh colouring from a faded canvas.

Dominant soloist

Sheona White was a dominant soloist in Kevin Houben’s ‘Legend of a Giant’  – a work inspired by a protective mythical figure of childhood dreams. Originally written for alto saxophone, its dynamic and tonal spectrums were enhanced by the soloist’s cultured virtuosity, her contoured shading and texturing giving the music an added weight of REM-inspired atmosphere.  

The first half closed with Dorothy Gates’ ‘Hope’  – a reflection from 2006 on the horrors of a conflict between Israel and Palestine that seems to have no end, and that had led to the questioning of her own faith. 

Her introduction also touched on the awfulness of the current tragedy – one that in effect placed an invisible question mark onto the work’s title.  Despite the music’s optimistic feel, her sentiments were not lost on the audience. 

Character pieces

A brace of geographical character pieces opened the second half. The first from Argentine composer Ignacio Freijo sought the expansive fertile plains of the Pampas, the second, from Kamea Nemeth, taking a more compact personal journey to the close-knit streets of Budapest.

‘Pest is Where the Noise is At’ was a cleverly conceived snapshot – as if the walls of the old city were echoing with the ancient sounds of battling Magyars and Ottomans and more modern pulses of folk song and electro funk.     

‘Allpamenta’  perhaps took in a couple of repetitive detours too many, although it never lost its colourful thematic essence,  whilst ‘Pest is Where the Noise is At’ was a cleverly conceived snapshot – as if the walls of the old city were echoing with the ancient sounds of battling Magyars and Ottomans and more modern pulses of folk song and electro funk.     

Acerbic wit

No such need to add pigmentation to the acerbic wit and sardonic flavouring of Henze’s ‘Ragtimes & Habeneras’ – a brilliantly realised series of 11 miniatures written during his mid-1970s ‘Cuban’ period that laced the cursory dances with an infusion of Romberg, Mahler and Weill. 

It remains, especially as neatly realised here by MD and band, a masterful curio that cuts deep and sharp into the musical bone.   

It was left to a fine account of Percy Fletcher’s ‘An Epic Symphony’  to close the evening (the ‘encore’ of Heaton’s ‘Safe in the Promised Land’  was a redundant, if well intentioned piece of  advertising); the ‘Recitare’  full of declamatory optimism, its subdued ending a segue to the poignant ‘Elegy’  that acts as a tribute to the fallen of a war still fresh in the composer’s memory. 

It formed the core of a performance of tempered insight; the ‘Heroic March’  an Elgarian pastiche of a noble sentiment lost in the muddy fields of Flanders, its sense of lingering English imperialism exhausted long before its elongated close.

Iwan Fox 

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