LIVING THE DREAM - B&R bari star Amy Ewen chats to BB

Issue 6140

END OF THE ROAD - Jeans' tenure at GUS comes to a close

CONCERT REVIEW - Tredegar shines at Newbury Spring Festival

SADLY MISSED - Richard Evans laid to rest

BIDDING FAREWELL - Stephen Allen says goodbye to Lancaster British Brass Band

2022 European Brass Band Championships: Set test-piece - live

Friday 29 April, 2022

Live coverage from the set test-piece contest of the European Brass Band Championships.

Issue 6137 digital April 28, 2022

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Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Mark Good reporting


1. Foden’s Band (England) Russell Gray
2. 3BA Brass Band (Germany) Corsin Tuor
3. Hauts-de-France Brass Band (France) Luc Vertommen
4. Brass Band Oberösterreich (Austria) Günther Reisegger
5. Tredegar Band (Wales) Ian Porthouse
6. Valaisia Brass Band (Switzerland) Arsène Duc
7. Göta Brass Band (Sweden) Michael Thomsen
8. Brass Band Schoonhoven (Netherlands) Paul Holland
9. the cooperation band (Scotland) Michael Fowles
10. Stavanger Brass Band (Norway) Allan Withington
11. The Cory Band (Wales) Philip Harper


Day one of the European Brass Band Championships draws to a close and it's been a fascinating event so far. Philip Wilby's Saints Triumphant has tested all of the bands, albeit it a strong field. The layouts have varied significantly; it'll be interesting to hear just how much that has affected what the adjudicators actually heard.

It could be a close-run thing, with several bands hoping to build on a solid first day and storm the own-choice contest. For what it's worth, BB opts for a current lead of:


1) Cory
2) Tredegar
3) Foden's
4) Valaisia 
5) Stavanger 



11) The Cory Band (Wales) Philip Harper

You can hear a pin drop before Cory starts its performance, the world’s number one band having been warmly welcomed on to the stage. Cory opts to start the echo choir at the far side of the stage and begins in delightfully understated fashion.

There’s a golden sheen to the sounds in the statement of the hymn tune, which is light as air. Cory soon opens up into something altogether magisterial in outlook, full of pomp and vigour. 

Philip Harper turns the corner with ease into a Metamorphisis which is crystal clear, the detail razor sharp.

Echo choir aside, Cory is largely in normal formation, opting to forego the rejigged layout which has been prevalent in many of the other performances. 

The marcato is taken very literally, and it gives a tremendous sense of clarity. The solo sounds before the Epitaph are languid and so relaxed. The Epitaph itself sees rep outside the hall (cornet side) while solo cornet remains seated, in position. Underneath is a gentle, shimmering accompaniment. The score is given time and space here, and that poise lends itself very well to the overall structure.

The finish line in sight, Cory takes flight, the final moments as dramatic as they are full of pomp, blood and thunder. It rounds off a thoroughly enjoyable contest in style - and should stand the Welsh band in good stead heading into day two.



10) Stavanger Brass Band (Norway) Allan Withington

A carefully-crafted opening from Allan Withington gives way to a magisterial hymn. It’s subtle but there’s a delightful richness to the sounds.

Intrada is multi-layered and nicely balanced and Stavanger seamlessly turns the corner into Metamorphisis, during which Allan Withington wastes no time. Purposeful and dramatic, with just a hint of intrigue.

The variety in musical colours haven’t always been apparent elsewhere today during the Valediction; they are here. It moves forward during a reading which links the various sections of Philip Wilby’s score so well; a  masterful musical mind is at work here.

The Epitaph is delightfully shaped but some tension creeps in around the stand; such a shame. It regains confidence, though, surging forward with the momentum heard earlier in the performance, a picture of English grandeur - with a Nordic twist, of course. There’s a degree of restraint towards the close; no danger of being over-cooked here. So much to enjoy from Stavanger - but could that dip in the middle cost?


9) the cooperation band (Scotland) Michael Fowles

It feels a touch on the heavy side in the opening moments cooperation band’s reading, though the tenor horn sound, in particular, is of undoubted quality. 

After that, Michael opts for a lighter touch, in the hymn tune. The band, a former Scottish and indeed National champion, bursts into life in the Intrada, a sense of majesty pervading the performance.

Metamorphisis is businesslike in its approach, generally tight in its execution; trombones are tight as a drum in their nimble semiquaver material.

Intonation doesn’t always feel entirely at ease during the Valediction. It’s spirited playing though, exciting if a little over-exuberant during some of those lighter moments.

The Epitaph begins with a delightful lightness of touch, and the cooperation band really relishes this corner of the piece. Solo cornet and rep (the latter of whom is off-stage, cornet side), trade delicious exchanges. There has been some fantastic rep playing today!

That Epitaph seems to have inspired cooperation band, which is really motoring now, underpinned by some wholehearted bottom end sounds. Michael Fowles draws a dramatic conclusion from the Scottish band, which was really flying to the close.



8) Brass Band Schoonhoven (Netherlands) Paul Holland

It isn’t entirely rosy in the garden in the opening moments but Paul Holland paints a refined musical picture. The hymn tune is nicely shaped, understated in its approach.

Brass Band Schoonhoven grows into a sound of high drama; impressive breadth and depth. It feels particularly at ease at these points of the piece.

The euphonium playing, in particular, shines through in the Metamorphisis; bright, crisp and virtuosic.

Valediction has a suitably eerie feel to the music, a gentle shimmer underpinning the octave-laden melodic lines which emanate from the score.

Paul Holland is ensuring the flow to the music. In this Epitaph, rep remains on stage, albeit positioned some distance back from the rest of the band. No two performances are quite the same, in this respect; fascinating.

It does feel like there are two sides to Brass Band Schoonhoven, at times. At its best, and its biggest, it’s vibrant and full of character, typified by the final stages; it just isn’t without moments of  fragility, often in the more delicate corners of Philip Wilby’s score.


7) Göta Brass Band (Sweden) Michael Thomsen

Following a brief comfort break, Sweden’s Göta Brass Band gets the action back under way in Symphony Hall. 

There’s a great deal of refinement to the reading from Michael Thomsen (whose elegance in his gesture is clear to see) in the early stages and most of the ideas are brought to fruition, with only occasional scruffy edges.

The link into the Metamorphisis is a little sticky and it doesn’t quite have the clinical delivery one might hope for - but it’s dramatic and there are some fantastically fruity bass trombone sounds, while soprano sails across the band with gusto.

Balance is crucial in this dynamic score and Göta works hard to ensure the correct lines are given room to breathe when required. It’s just a tad inconsistent at times, small fragilities in ensemble on occasion.

The Epitaph duly shimmers, nicely animated rep from beyond the auditorium. 

A considered reading from Göta Brass Band and, while not everything came off entirely successfully, it was wholly committed and, at its best, endearing in its elegance.



6) Valaisia Brass Band (Switzerland) Arsène Duc

Valaisia takes its time in what is a slightly nervy opening but it soon settles. The hymn is warm, enjoying a subtle ebb and flow.

Metamorphisis sees Valaisia in its stride; neat and nimble, the detail springing from the page. Valediction is well-balanced and the sounds are of such a high calibre.

Arsène Duc ensures the fine Swiss band is so well organised, almost every corner of Philip Wilby’s score given its due prominence. Incidentally, he has opted to have the echo choir standing in the usual trombone positions; there are all sorts of takes on layout today, as suspected.

Epitaph sees rep venturing out the auditorium (cornet side this time) and it’s a delightfully elegant exchange with principal cornet. Equally elegant is the way Valaisia links many of the sections in Philip Wilby’s score. There’s a natural feel to it, which has not always been the case today. 

At its best, it was quite something, and included some of the best playing of the contest so far - but it wasn’t without early moments of vulnerability.


5) Tredegar Band (Wales) Ian Porthouse

It’s delightfully hushed to open, the sounds growing from very little. The statement of the hymn, meanwhile, is a richness of tone which captures the ‘Englishness’ (or Britishness!) of the score and RVW.

This is a multi-dimensional performance from Tredegar, packing a punch when required. Ian Porthouse doesn’t waste any time in the Metamorphisis, pressing on and it’s largely clinical in its delivery, the nimble lines emanating from the pages of the score to the audience in Symphony Hall. Ian is not known over over-wrought performances and this reading is no exception; it’s stylish though, and refined too.

Variations strikes a fine balance between the melodic material and the bristling lines running alongside. Tredegar grows to giant proportions when required, unafraid to bare its teeth.

The Epitaph is beautifully delivered; dramatic, melancholic and nicely paced before Tredegar finds an extra gear in the closing moments. It is generally thrilling; bold and purposeful. The reaction of the players shows they know they produced something special. 




4) Brass Band Oberösterreich (Austria) Günther Reisegger 

A delightfully ethereal feel to the opening of Brass Band Oberösterreich’s performance. Here, the echo choir is to the rear of the stage, positioned to the side. 

The opening statement of the hymn is simple, but elegant, in its execution. The echo choir is nicely balanced, if perhaps a shade healthy at times in those pp moments. Metamorphisis, meanwhile, is suitably brisk, almost machine-like in its execution.

Fleeting intonation grumbles raise their head during the octave passages. 

Günther Reisegger ensures a well-shaped reading, one in which a variety of tonal colours rise to the fore. Philip Wilby, meanwhile, watches on with interest; how fascinating it must be for a composer to hear his work given differing interpretations by such a fine array of bands.

The two exposed cornets again perform with aplomb, solo cornet at the front of the stage and rep outside the auditorium. The echo choir finds a truly shimmering quality to the sound, which is very effective.

There’s a suitably majestic quality to the Finale, exciting but not excited. It’s a well-measured ending, too, a patient build - and soprano makes his presence felt to close. Bravo. 


3) Hauts-de-France Brass Band (France) Luc Vertommen

It’s an elegant opening from Hauts-de-France, if not quite as soft as we’ve heard so far in the pianissimo corners. 

There’s an organic feel to the Intrada which is very exciting but it’s off, full steam ahead, into the Metamorphisis. There’s a lot of neat, nimble work on display here, even at big dynamics; bravo, trombones.

Luc Vertommen is working to bring out the array of musical colours from Philip Wilby’s engaging score.

As has been the case so far today, there is some classy cornet playing during the Epitaph, from both solo cornet and the off-stage rep. Their meandering musical lines are underpinned by a ghostly soft accompaniment but the exposed corners remain cool as a cucumber. Rep works his way into the hall, remaining at the far side of the stage to take us into the Finale. Beginning in sombre fashion, this gradually grows in energy and verve, a sense of purposes which is retained to Sine Nominee. 

At times, it really pushes on - maybe a shade too much? But this is music of great drama from Philip Wilby; his writing tells the audience that the end is near, the tension growing - and Hauts-de-France bring it to life with a performance of great energy, albeit one that tires a little in the closing stages.



2) 3BA Brass Band (Germany) Corsin Tuor 


3BA Brass Band’s echo choir begins outside the auditorium; it’s fascinating to see how MDs will interpret this differently as the contest progresses. 

There are moments on fragility and uncertainty in the early stages but it gains in confidence. The intrada flows and bristles with energy, even if not all the detail makes it off the stage to the audience in Symphony Hall.

When in full flight, there’s a great confidence to the playing from 3BA Brass Band, with classy sounds evident, exemplified by the solo and rep cornet during their interplay. For the record, all the cornet parts are independent in this piece - as are the rest of the parts in the piece.

The echo choir, now on stage and sitting in the usual trombone seats, are ghostly soft in their hushed muted passage. 

3BA effectively captures the ‘Englishness’ in the majestic hymn-like material in the final stages. At its best, there was much to enjoy in this engaging account - but there are plenty more to come in today’s contest.



1) Foden’s Band (England) Russell Gray

Taking to the stage first in the set work contest is the reigning champion band of Great Britain, Foden’s Band. The audience is getting a feel for the unconventional layout, which includes an echo choir off to the side (behind the usual trombone position). Cornets sit facing each other, with trombones occupying the usual back row spot. Humble beginnings soon give way to heraldic fanfares.

The Metamorphisis is crisp, bubbling and vivacious, the Valediction mystical in its outlook. The rejigged positioning has a fascinating impact on the sound as the performance emanates to the audience - and it’s a good (though not full) audience too.

The epitaph, suitably haunting, sees rep take a walk - all the way out the hall, an off-stage effect. It is answered by a quite sublime solo cornet cadenza from Mark Wilkinson, a player who continues to deliver with aplomb at the highest level.

There’s a sense of majesty to the Finale, captured by Foden’s with gusto. This is the National champion at full tilt, sparks flying as the band hurtles towards the closing moments. Players stand and face in all manner of directions, a further twist in the tail in terms of the variety of positioning on display.

As markers go, Foden’s has got the set work contest off to a wonderful start.