CROSSING MUSICAL BORDERS - British Bandsman talks to tenor horn virtuoso Owen Farr

Issue 6013

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE - John Wallace discusses pieces that have played a significant part in his life

A BAND OF THEIR OWN - How the all-female US-based Athena Brass Band came into being

The 42nd European Brass Band Championships - Championship Section Set Test - LIVE!

Friday 26 April, 2019

Test Piece: Dear Cassandra (Ludovic Neurohr)

Adjudicators: Ian Bousfield, Hervé Grélat & Bert Van Thienen

Andrew Wainwright reporting from Auditorium Stravinski, Montreux, Switzerland

 

For a full preview of the contest and test piece, you can view last week's British Bandsman issue free of charge at: https://joom.ag/PVha

 

 

So there we have it. A sensational few hours of high octane playing and much for the judges to ponder. It’s been an engaging test piece that has really challenged even the very best bands, and nobody came out completely unscathed. It does leave the door ajar tomorrow as the bands deliver their own choices pieces, although there have been a couple of stand-out performances. After that we have a clutch of bands who might still feel they’re in the reckoning if they truly deliver tomorrow.
 
Predictions so far
At the half way stage we are going for the following:
1.     Eikanger
2.     Cory
3.     Willebroek
4.     Valaisia
5.     Brighouse & Rastrick
 
Dark Horses: Oberosterreich

That's it for today. Join us tomorrow as we continue our live coverage with the Challenge Section at 9am Central European time, followed by the much-awaited Championship Section Own Choice. 

 

Draw

1. Brighouse & Rastrick (Prof. David King)
2. Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern (Michael Bach)
3. Provinciale Brass Band Groningen (Richard Visser)
4. Concord Brass Band (Jesper Juul Windahl)
5. Gota Brass Band (Michael Thomson)
6. 3BA Concert Band (Luc Vertommen)
7. Brass Band Oberosterreich (Ian Porthouse)
8. Brass Band Willebroek (Frans Violet)
9. Italian Brass Band (Filippo Cangiamila)
10. Paris Brass Band (Florent Didier)
11. Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag (Ingar Bergby)
12. Cory Band (Philip Harper)
13. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc)
 

 

13. Valaisia Brass Band (Arsene Duc)
 
Last but certainly not least tonight it’s the local favourites, Valaisia, who will be looking to retain their title on home soil. The contrasts in dynamic in the opening are quite something and the octaves sound perfectly in tune. Such warm sounds abound. There are one or two clips in the opening slow section which detract slightly, but this is followed by epic sounds.
FEAR: This is like a white-knuckle ride as we’re thrown from one part of the band to another. It’s Valaisia at their very best.
HIGH HOPES: Solo cornet is effortless in his cadenza and is followed in equal suit by solo euphonium. These and the following cadenzas are about the best we’ve heard today, although we have a moment of insecure intonation in the muted instruments. We have an uncomfortable moment in the lead up to NO MATTER, but overall the playing is sublime. The bass trombone leads us into the next session, which brings out some huge bass sounds. Again intonation issues detract somewhat – a shame as there is so much else to enjoy. As the tempo picks up, so does the momentum in Valaisia’s performance and what glorious sounds we hear in the finale.
 
Overall: So much to commend in this performance and it draws rapturous applause from the home crowd. However, it leaves the door open somewhat after some insecurity in the more exposed sections, although it featured amongst the finest technical playing of the day.
 
 

12. Cory Band (Philip Harper)
 
It’s three Bb basses for Cory as they bolster their bottom end – and what a sound they create! The hairpin crescondos at the start are so incredibly effective. There are beautiful sounds permeating and a picture is being painted as the music develops. The semi-quaver runs just leap out of the texture. What magnificent sounds!  
FEAR: Oh so dramatic and blistering technique is heard around the band. Philip Harper picks out exactly what needs to be heard at just the right moments. Steve Stewart rocks the house on his soprano solo! This is a performance that puts a smile on your face. The ostinato is so relentless and we’re sent into a trance in the psychedelic section. 
HIGH HOPES: Solo cornet and euphonium excel in their cadenzas and we’re on the edge of our seats with the pianissimo playing. The remaining cadenzas are all virtually spotless. The cornet sounds glisten like stars in the sky.
NO MATTER: The bass trombone solo is taken at a slower tempo than the previous bands but has an underlying sense of humour. Brilliant tuned percussion leads us into the next section. The last slow section isn’t quite together at times, but the euphonium duet is just sumptuous and brings a tear to the eye. The soprano solo is full of verve and we are drawn into the final majestic chorale-like section which brings out the famous Cory sound.
 
Overall: A simply mesmerising performance from Cory – so different in approach to Eikanger but every bit as engaging. We heard details we hadn’t heard before in any of the other performances. It’s a platform that gives the Welsh band every chance tomorrow if they deliver in the same way on their own choice.

 

11. Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag (Ingar Bergby)
 
We’re down to three of the major favourites for this competition who have all been drawn one after another! First up it’s the Norwegians, who will be looking to take back their title. Superbly judged crescendos and diminuendos give us a dramatic opening, founded on a massive bass end. A near flawless cornet cadenza, and there is a tangible sense of emotion emanating around the hall. We’re hearing some gargantuan sounds here.
FEAR: This just simmers and we feel a sense that something is about to happen. Clinical technique is heard in spades. So many sound pictures are being created here as we’re taken to another place metaphorically speaking.
HIGH HOPES: The cadenzas are close to faultless. We hear some highly emotive playing that is perfectly in tune, and the note production is clean as a whistle. Beautiful flugel just sings, before the bass trombone lilts along into the next section. The huge bass pedals that come out of nowhere create so much depth. The bright cornet and trombone sounds cut through the texture brilliantly and there is real flow to this. It’s as if we’re hearing a different piece at times.
DEAR CASSANDRA: So much emotion is permeating here, before we leap into NO MATTER. There’s so much drama and contrast here. The forte pianos near the end are incredibly effective and draw us into a rip-roaring finale of epic proportions.
 
Overall: A performance of immense stature from the Norwegians – this will take some beating. You run out of superlatives when the band are in this kind of form - which seems to be most of the time! This was one of THE performances in recent years at the Europeans. Wow!

 

10. Paris Brass Band (Florent Didier)
 
A band that has really made its mark at this competition in recent years, Paris Brass Band come here with high hopes. An evocative introduction leads into some impressive sounds as the band opens up.
FEAR: This has a relentless drive and energy about it and a haunting transition into HIGH HOPES brings a fine cornet cadenza, followed by an equally convincing euphonium. The cadenzas that follow are all well handled, although it seems to sag a little in the lyrical section.
NO MATTER: The bass trombone’s delivery is competent and a steady tempo is set by the MD. We hear excellent solos from around the band, particularly solo trombone and there’s a real sense of excitement being generated. The euphonium duet is fully committed, and the next session has the desired groove. Big sounds resonate but without being overpowering. An effective pianissimo is achieved into the final crescendo.
 
Overall: A performance that went down well with the audience, although just seemed to lack a bit of sparkle overall. It had its moments and we heard some fine playing from around the stands, but it perhaps lacked that bit of magic that is required at this level to compete at the very top.

 

9. Italian Brass Band (Filippo Cangiamila)
 
It’s the Italians’ first ever showing in the Championship Section at the Europeans after three wins in the last four years in the Challenge Section. How will they fare with the big boys? We’re about to find out. An untidy first note is punctuated by some uneven hairpin dynamics, but it settles down somewhat. Intonation issues undermine as we move into the first cornet cadenza, which is well handled.  
FEAR: Superb technique from the solo cornet is echoed around the band and they have now settled into their groove and are clearly enjoying the limelight. The psychedelic section seems to lose its thread momentarily, however.
HIGH HOPES: There is a sense of mystery here and the cadenzas are delivered with aplomb. There is some effective light and shade in this section.
NO MATTER: This section is started in confident fashion by the bass trombone. A very prominent snare leads us into the rhythmic section and we hear some fine sounds from around the band. Signs that some fatigue is setting in a tad perhaps, although not for the euphoniums who shine in their duet. There is a good sense of groove as the momentum is recovered.
FINALE: The band really lets go here and they’ve certainly kept something in reserve! They’re determined to make the most of their promotion to Europe’s top table.
 
Overall: A spirited performance from the Italians who have shown they’re not out of their depth at this level. It was a performance that grew in confidence and one sensed the longer it went on the more they felt at home on stage. They can now go into tomorrow with an added sense of confidence.

 

8. Brass Band Willebroek (Frans Violet)
 
The opening is mesmerising and there’s a warmth to the band’s sound which has become synonymous with this band in recent years. The solo cornet is sublime in the first of the cadenzas. We’re launched into a massive climax which prepares us for FEAR. Laser-like semi-quavers pervade around the band, capped off with a virtuosic soprano. The psychedelic section is perhaps on the safe side dynamically which takes away some of the drama.
HIGH HOPES: Solo Cornet is sublimely lyrical in his cadenza, and is followed in similar style by the euphonium. The remaining cadenzas are well handled and there are some luminous sounds in evidence. The music is beautifully shaped by the MD here. There’s a moment of unease in cadenzas that follow as the performance loses its way briefly.
NO MATTER: We hear massive bass sounds here and the music gains in momentum. The details are always clearly heard, although the pitching in the technical passages are not always absolutely on the money.  
The euphonium glides up to the top E and there’s a real sense of lyricism in the slow section prior to the finale. What gigantic sounds we hear as we’re led into an extraordinary last few bars!
 
Overall: A performance of epic proportions from the Belgians which draws a deserved standing ovation from the crowd. The soloists really shone and the unique sound was what we’ve come to expect of this band. Willebroek have really put down a marker here.

 

7. Brass Band Oberosterreich (Ian Porthouse)
 
There’s a buzz around the hall as the Austrians take to the stage, led by Ian Porthouse. Intriguingly Hans Gansch comes out of retirement to make a return to the contest stage – this time as one of two soprano players – a tactic several of the bands have employed today as they split up a fiendishly difficult part. It’s a more symphonic approach than we’ve heard before and one senses that these opening bars suit the band’s unique sound. Superb soprano and solo cornets cut through the texture with semi-quaver runs and there is real intent at the outset. The lead into FEAR is a little untidy, but the technique on show from thereon is clinical. The soprano playing continues to be out of this world. The bass ostinato in the psychedelic section is kept at a controlled level and the muted trombones are ominous.
HIGH HOPES: The music is well shaped by the MD throughout this section and there is real control in the lower dynamics. The early cadenzas aren’t without slips, although the flugel is sublime at the Presto.
NO MATTER: The bass trombone solo is so classy. Accents are used to good effect in the rhythmic ostinati and the steady tempo helps the music speak. Trombones are sublime and perfectly in tune when they cut through the texture. A slight sense of fatigue sets in before the climax, but they recharge the batteries to produce a massive finale. 
 
Overall: A performance of real stature from the Austrians who are enjoying their return to this platform after a year’s hiatus. A quite different approach to the previous bands and it remains to be seen whether that will resonate in the box, but there were moments of real class. Certainly it leaves them in with a shout for tomorrow.

 

6. 3BA Concert Band (Luc Vertommen)

The opening motif pops out the texture effectively and a wide dynamic range is in evidence early on. Intonation suffers slightly, which is a shame as the overall band sound is very good. Fantastic soprano glides over the band.
FEAR: There’s some truly virtuosic playing around the stands and the music is bristling with energy without feeling frantic. The psychedelic section is sinister and the transition into HIGH HOPES is clean. There is a feeling of raw emotion at its core here. The cadenzas are full of confidence, after which we hear some highly atmospheric sounds aided in no small part by the percussion section.
NO MATTER: The tuned percussion has a prominence that we haven’t heard before in this section and Luc Vertommen is drawing out the details here. The music is celebratory yet with an underlying sense of menace which is captured brilliantly. The euphonium duet (the top part of which sails up to a top E) is amongst the best of the day so far and is operatic in style.
FINALE: Trombones cut incisively through the texture and razor sharp rhythms from the snare drive it to a magnificent conclusion.
 
Overall: A very fine performance from the Germans which proves popular with the audience. It took the listener through a wide range of emotions – something that not every band has managed so far. There wasn’t a lot to fault, and the band can will go into tomorrow’s own choice high on confidence.

 

5. Gota Brass Band (Michael Thomson) 
 
Gota Brass Band are representing Sweden here in their first Championship Section performance at the Europeans. Effective bass pedals pervade although the pianissimos are maybe a touch on the strong side. There are some warm sounds around the band as the music glows and there is a real sense of purpose.
FEAR: The band creates excitement and there’s plenty of forward momentum led by the excellent percussion section. The bass ostinato in the psychedelic section has the desired hypnotic effect.
HIGH HOPES: Fine solo cornet and euphonium cadenzas are amongst the best of the day so far. The ensemble isn’t always coherent, but the music glistens.
NO MATTER: The bass trombone solo is delivered with a real sense of style. There is a poise about this that is aided by a slower tempo than the previous bands and allows more detail to come through. It feels well controlled. Some beautiful vibrato in the final slow section resonates around the hall. There is some tension in the upper range at the close of this section which undermines things slightly though - a shame as things were going so well.   
FINALE: There is a majesty about this ending and the Swedish outfit have saved the loudest dynamics until the very last, although it does perhaps lose some balance in the last few bars. 
 
Overall: A fine performance with much to enjoy and a real sense of musicality throughout. One wouldn’t have known this was the band’s first top section performance at this contest as they played with a real assuredness and confidence. 

 

4. Concord Brass Band (Jesper Juul Windahl)
 
Denmark’s finest take to the stage, although the first note doesn’t sound exactly together. We are hearing different lines to previous bands here though, and the openiong crescendos and diminuendos are well judged. The slow music here isn’t quite as luminous as we’ve heard in the first three bands, however. Fine soprano gives everything as the sounds open up.
FEAR: The percussion creates a sense of tension here, and there are effective surges in dynamic, although it doesn’t always quite gel. The technical demands are being met, although at times at the expense of clarity. There’s some unevenness in the basses as we enter HIGH HOPES.
The Principal Euphonium is enjoying the limelight and delivers his cadenza confidently. There’s a real sense of stillness here. Muted duet cadenzas lose their way somewhat. Again it’s the quiet playing that proves the biggest challenge as intonation suffers slightly as nerves kick in.
NO MATTER: Fine percussion drives the music, although the sounds don’t always blend.
FINALE: Committed euphonium duet sings and is so nearly perfect. As has been the case with a couple of bands so far, with such a powerful ending on the way it would be my preference to hear more of a drop in dynamic before the grand finale to create more by way of contrast. However, the ending is full of passion although just lacks a touch of control.
 
Overall: Despite a slightly untidy start, the Danish outfit recovered to create a performance that certainly had some fine moments. This is a fiendishly difficult piece and perhaps nerves got in the way in the more exposed sections. It was a performance that was full of panache, however, and the band can be proud of their efforts.

 

3. Provinciale Brass Band Groningen (Richard Visser)
 
This opening is full of drama, although is again perhaps a little over the top dynamically. Fine technical playing is in evidence in FEAR, however. Muted trombones have a real sense of menace about them.
HIGH HOPES: The cornet cadenza is beautifully delivered and there is a real lyrical style and sense of ease here, although unfortunately a missed entry on of the cadenzas. As the music unfolds, intonation suffers somewhat on muted cadenzas and there’s some unease.
NO MATTER: Full of energy, although the ensemble isn’t quite together at times here. Evocative sounds as the music settles in the final slow section, but is again undone by the occasional moment of discomfort and intonation. The piu mosso is full of rhythmic verve.
FINALE: Another massive finish, athough perhaps more than the music requires.
 
Overall: Another highly committed and driven performance, although it felt like the Dutch band were more comfortable in the louder sections than the moments that called for exposed, quiet playing. Perhaps lacking a bit of nuance at times, which in this company may count against them in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, there was much to be admired and Groningen have given a good account of themselves here.

  

2. Brass Band Burgermusik Luzern – Michael Bach
 
The opening from the Swiss perhaps isn’t quite as clean as Brighouse’s and intonation is exposed a little on the unison long notes. The band really opens up in the fortissimo moments though and it’s on the limit of what even this sizeable hall can take dynamically.
FEAR: Again everything is a dynamic up compared to Brighouse, although there’s a great sense of drive. Now we hear a real pianissimo as we approach HIGH HOPES. A confident solo cornet leads us nicely into the slow section. The cadenzas are all delivered with panache and intonation is kept in check. This middle section really glistens and you can hear real emotion here. The cornet and trombone cadenza isn’t quite in sync, however, and there is some slight unease for a moment around the band before things recover.
NO MATTER: Bass trombone solo is played with joviality and humour and the music has a lilt to it. Use of mutes is effective as a tool for changing colour. Huge sounds lead into the serene meno mosso before V. The pianissimo is a bit safe before W, but there is a good rhythmic drive in the psychedelic rock section.
FINALE: Monumental sounds here as the band gives every last drop in a rip-roaring conclusion, as the home crowd goes wild.
 
Overall: A full throttle performance where the band gave absolutely everything. Perhaps the dynamic levels were a little over the top though and there were less subtleties than in Brighouse’ performance, but you can’t fault the band for commitment.

 

1. Brighouse & Rastrick - Prof. David King

It’s Brighouse who take to the stage, their purple jackets resplendent as the 2019 European Brass Band Championships get under way. What an all-star front row of cornets, with several former principal cornets! The evocative opening is mesmerising and a depth of bass sound is evident, as Prof. David King draws out the dynamic nuances in the score. There is a real sense of menace here as the music unfolds. The solo cornet handles the fiendish cadenza with ease at D.
FEAR: This takes off at breakneck pace and showcases the Yorkshire band’s blistering technique. This is just bristling with relentless energy.
HIGH HOPES: The Solo Cornet again shines and is followed by euphonium. Each cadenza is well handled – this section could be the undoing of some bands today. Intonation suffers a little in places however, and the occasional slip is in evidence which might open the door for other bands. There is a sense of foreboding about this middle section.
NO MATTER: This has a real sense of groove and purpose about it and we can hear the various textures coming through clearly. We hear the deep bass sounds again as the floor rumbles.
DEAR CASSANDRA: There is a sense of sweet innocence here with beautiful sounds from soprano and euphonium. The euphoniums sing out in their duet like two opera singers.
FINALE: Massive sounds in the finale make the hairs of the neck stand up. By heck what a finish!
 
Overall: Brighouse have set a real marker here. This is clearly a piece that will separate the men from the boys and the winner this weekend will have to be at the top of their game.