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: own-choice contest - live

Sunday 1 May, 2022

Issue 6137 digital April 28, 2022

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Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Mark Good reporting

 

Adjudicators: Arvid Anthun, Christophe Jeanbourquin and Jan de Haan 

Draw 

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

 

5pm

How about that?! Whether you were in the hall, watching at home or simply dipping into the text comments, hopefully you’ve enjoyed what you’ve caught of the European Brass Band Championships. It’s no exaggeration to say the standard, particularly in the Championship Section, has been incredible. Yes, there have been minor quibbles and those are exacerbated amid such a lofty field but generally, every band has proven its merit at this prestigious event.

There’s been some variety of repertoire, too - from world premieres to more established works; a feast for the ears. It’ll be fascinating to find out how those pieces have resonated in the adjudicators’ box - and to hear what they made of yesterday’s action in the set piece contest. As for a prediction?! Gulp. At the risk of sitting on the fence, it really does feel like it could in any one of several directions.

Own-choice prediction

1) Tredegar
2) Valaisia
3) Cory
4) Foden’s
5) Stavanger
6) Brass Band Schoonhoven

 

Overall prediction

1) Tredegar
2) Cory
3) Foden’s
4) Valaisia

 

******

 
11) 3BA Concert Band (Germany) Corsin Tuor | Other Lives - Oliver Waespi

 

There’s an ethereal quality to the opening bars of Oliver Waespi’s piece. The musical tension soon starts to build, the forces of 3BA Concert Band growing to a sound of considerable weight. 

From unadulterated sinister qualities to light, frenetic sounds, 3BA is producing a multi-dimensional performance which is so engaging. It’s evocative musical storytelling and the audience in the hall, which remains of a good size, is being treated to another fine performance as the competitive element of the weekend prepares to come to a close. 

There’s been some virtuosic trombone playing on display and 3BA continues that tradition in style; bravo!


******

 

10) Hauts-de-France Brass Band (France) Luc Vertommen | Sinfonietta No 2 - Four Impressions - Pierre-Antoine Savoyat

Hauts-de-France is rooted in the traditional in the opening of Sinfonietta No 2 - Four Impressions, tender melodic lines played with delicacy and poise. The fine French band put on a performance of great excitement on Saturday and today is perhaps even more spirited. 

Some of the writing is especially florid in its nature but the French band’s players demonstrate remarkable technique, hurtling around their instruments; bravo, Mr solo cornet.

Not everything goes entirely to plan, entries that don’t line up,  for example, but it’s wholly committed playing.

It’s an interesting piece, this set work. Unashamedly virtuosic, it’s also unashamedly tonal, feeling like a collection of dances. It stands out against some of the more contemporary harmonic approaches in some of the other works we’ve heard. Exciting, as ever, from Hauts-de-France.

******

9) Stavanger Brass Band (Norway) Allan Withington | The Turing Test - Simon Dobson

Allan Withington and Stavanger create a very special sound world in the opening of The Turing Test. The balance is given so much care and attention, competing lines given their place. The slightest of blemishes do little to detract from the musical storytelling on display here.

There’s a persistent machine-like quality to much of Simon Dobson’s score, as by its very nature, it looks to Alan Turing’s famous test, designed to prove whether artificial intelligence (AI) could successfully imitate human thought. Stavanger captures its unrelenting qualities but brings a musical sensitivity when it’s called for. There’s a deep sadness to some of the music, belying the tensions and challenges Mr Turing faced during his life. The more frenetic aspects, meanwhile, are brought to life in evocative fashion by an excellent band, under the baton of a conductor of supreme musical intelligence.

******

8) Brass Band Schoonhoven (Netherlands) Paul Holland | Fraternity - Thierry Deleruyelle

Menacing bass sounds are ghostly soft to open. On top of the haunting low, sounds and with percussion bubbling in the background, euphonium immediately demonstrates his artistry in the opening, quasi-cadenza section. 

Brass Band Schoonhoven relishes the opportunity to open the taps to unleash the sinister chords in Thierry Deleruyelle’s score. The odd sound gets a little strained but it regains composure and fades away to very little.

Solo cornet demonstrates remarkable agility and is suitably finessed during the pearly, unaccompanied solo.

Brass Band Schoonhoven is another to turn things up a notch, compared to its solid showing in the set work contest. A lot of the fast, florid material is so tight and full of character. Trombones are nearly always together in their sombre chorale.

Paul Holland draws a cultured reading of a master work from the Dutch band. It may not be quite in the elite bracket today - but it was so engaging.


******

 

7) Brass Band Oberösterreich (Austria) Günther Reisegger | Dynasty - Peter Graham

After a quick comfort break, the action resumes with music from Brass Band Oberösterreich, conducted by Günther Reisegger. A plaintive cornet solo takes centre stage in the early moments and is nicely paced.

The haunting whistling soon gives way to sounds of considerable proportions, Brass Band Oberösterreich unleashing its full menace. It’s a little scratchy up top at times.

The lyrical moments of Peter Graham’s score are given delicious treatment by the band’s soloists, especially around the middle.  Off-stage cornet contributions are very effective and lead into a fugal-type section, which is precise and well-balanced. 

Brass Band Oberösterreich retains its composure throughout its performance, opening up joyously in the final strains of Peter Graham’s score. It may not have had the fireworks of some of the other performances today but there was plenty to enjoy from the fine Austrian band.


******

2.15pm

With that, we reach a brief break in proceedings and the audience files out from Symphony Hall, ready for coffee. What a morning they have been treated to, playing of the highest calibre from many of the best bands around. Adding new pieces into the mix brings a further dimension to the challenges facing the adjudicators; how do the pieces that have been around a little longer hold up? We shall see.

It’s incredibly tight at the top and could go in any one of several directions but based on these own-choice showings, and for a bit of fun, here’s a stab at the halfway stage leaders:

Halfway own-choice prediction

1) Tredegar
2) Valaisia
3) Cory
4) Foden’s

******

 

6) The Cory Band (Wales) Philip Harper | No Man’s Land - Thierry Deleruyelle

Following its late draw on Saturday, the world’s number one ranked band finds itself drawn in the middle of the field for the own-choice contest. 

New music, from the pen of Thierry Deleruyelle, provides an evocative opening, hushed percussion and muted brass giving way to a sound of enormous breadth. 

The work takes a frenetic turn, trombones impressing in their intricate work. 

An unaccompanied cornet solo follows, neat and tastefully done as we have long come to expect.

The score takes a haunting, mournful turn and the solos from the likes of euphonium and flugel are deliciously understated, opening into tutti moments of true melancholy and despair.

At full tilt, Cory is organ-like, a vast sound that emanates from the stage around every last member of the very sizeable audience in Symphony Hall.

******

 

5) Foden’s Band (England) Russell Gray | Eden - John Pickard

This is a piece with which Russell Gray enjoys a special relationship, having won the National Brass Band Championship title on it with Leyland in 2005.

Russell guides the Sandbach band through a measured opening, the delightful soprano sound lingering around the auditorium in Symphony Hall. The cornet and euphonium solo lines are beautifully crafted. There’s a schizophrenic quality to some of the trombone writing and it’s performed with aplomb. Mr principal trombone has earned his pint today.

There are some truly masterful musical minds in and around the brass band scene and Russell is one who surely fits into that elite bracket. His accomplished technique with the baton enables him to convey his carefully crafted musical ideas with an elegance not always on display elsewhere. 

Foden’s is another band producing a performance of great drama, its considerable forces impressing in Symphony Hall.

 

******

4) the cooperation band (Scotland) Michael Fowles | Journey of the Lone Wolf - Simon Dobson

It’s big and tight to open from the cooperation band, another band making use of five basses at today’s contest.

Basses trudge around the depths with great character before a neat transition into a cheeky klezmer-type melody, led with distinction by euphonium. Simon Dobson has drawn upon a wide variety of styles in this music and Michael Fowles is guiding the Scottish band through a multi-layered performance. Soprano and horn are among those to shine in the solo spotlight.

Flugel comes to the front of the stage and after a poignant silence, enchants the Symphony Hall audience in an incredibly exposed corner of the piece. The playing is understated and endearing, and her confidence is shared by trombone, whose languid, jazz-type feel feels perfectly at ease. The standard is very high indeed among cooperation’s soloists, and euphonium picks up the mantle followed by cornet, all showing elegance and finesse in their approach.

From sweet finesse to battle stations, cooperation opens up into full blood and thunder, underpinned by gigantic bottom end and percussion sounds. 

There cannot be a contest anywhere with higher standards and the cooperation band, under Michael Fowles, is mightily impressive in its own-choice performance. 

 

******

3) Valaisia Brass Band (Switzerland) Arsène Duc | A Gabrielli Fantasy - Bert Appermont 

Front row cornets are seated in the middle, usually occupied by tenor horns. The antiphonal qualities of Gabrielli’s music are apparent from the off. It’s delightfully balanced, enjoying a poise - before the music takes a left turn to something altogether more contemporary in outlook. Trombone flies around the register and the intricate lines around the stand project so well. Valaisia is an outstanding band and, that nervy opening aside on Saturday, produced a great deal of fine playing so will be looking to go for broke in today’s contest in a bid to leave the adjudicators in no doubt of its class.

Flugel moves to the front of the stage for a slow melody, performed with a simple elegance. The impassioned euphonium line, meanwhile, is undisputed in its virtuosity and the confidence is shared around the stand.

Cartoon-like, comedic material follows, light and airy, contrasting with the return of the bright, brilliant Gabrielli. It’s big but Arsène Duc ensures it remains under control. Valaisia is really flying in the final stages. The classy Swiss outfit is leaving no stone unturned in what is already a thrilling contest - and there’s plenty more to come! The prolonged ovation from the audience conveys its delight at what just unfolded.

 

******

2) Tredegar Band (Wales) Ian Porthouse | So Spoke Albion - Gavin Higgins

Tredegar bursts into life from the off in this work from the pen of Gavin Higgins. Muted colours bubble and fizz in the early stages before the Welsh band bares its teeth. Fleeting eruptions of sound are interspersed with a steady material which surges forward. After a very fine showing on Saturday, Tredegar is a band on a mission and detail positively bursts from the score. Cornets and euphoniums compete over angular melodic lines, gradually ascending.

Everything comes to a halt, as a serious of pearly cadenzas follow. From flugel to tenor horn, soprano, euphonium et al, the solo players sound the epitome of calm, sheer artistry as they embrace their moments in the spotlight.

There’s a mournful quality to the middle passage of Gavin Higgins’ score, with such an intriguing array of musical colours - from high tuba to muted trombones and tubular bells. It’s oh so delicate, which makes the growth, the surge in sound, all the more effective when it comes.

Under Ian Porthouse, Tredegar is a band that isn’t just unafraid to embrace new repertoire, it positively relishes it. Its collaboration with Gavin Higgins continues to be fruitful and the band, as recently announced, will perform music from Gavin at the BBC Proms later in 2022. For now, though, it is bringing to the audience in Symphony Hall a mesmerising performance as it stakes its claim for the European title. 

 

*****

1) Göta Brass Band (Sweden) Michael Thomsen | From Ancient Times - Jan Van der Roost

It’s eerie to open as Michael Thomsen and Göta Brass Band conjure some haunting sounds. The music making opens into something broad and expansive before the band finds an intense groove, with percussion relishing every last moment. Competing textures are all given their place, the balance carefully noted to enable the necessary lines to rise to the fore. 

Göta returns after a solid performance on Saturday but is bringing another dimension to the fore in its multi-faceted account of From Ancient Times. Much of the intricate trombone work in Jan Van der Roost’s score comes across, but there some of the 100mph material around the stand generally does get a little lost in the mix.

Soloists do well as the score reaches its more exposed corners. Mournful, chant-like sections are followed by a glorious warmth pervading the performance, with euphoniums at the core, soaring to the upper reaches of the register with apparent ease.

It’s not without some splashy moments as the piece nears its final stages but the commitment to this considerable score is undoubted from Göta, the band striving to bring as much detail to the fore as it can - and it makes for an engaging opening to the own-choice contest.