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Highlights of 23rd Norwegian Wind Band Championship
CD 1
Stig NORDHAGEN (b.1966)
Variations on a Folk Theme from Valdres (2005) [14.26]
Dragefjellets Musikkorps/Gary Petersen
Winners of Elite Section
David GILLINGHAM (b.1947)
Galactic Empires (1997) [11.54]
Musikklaget Lurlat/Rune Bergmann
2nd Place in 2nd Section
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
First Suite for in E-flat for Military Band, (1. Chaconne [4.44]; 2. Intermezzo [2.42]; 3. March [2.57]) Op. 28 No.1 (1909) [10.23]
Holmlia Konsertorkestor/Morten Wensberg
Winners of 4th Section
Philip WILBY (b.1949) arr. by M Scott McBride
Paganini Variations (1991) [15.39]
Halsen Musikkforening/Gavin David Lee
2nd Place in 1st Section
Bert APPERMONT (b.1973)
Egmont (2004) [18.29]
Sande Musikkorps/Lars-Thomas Holm
Winners of 2nd Section
CD2
Stephen MELILLO
Wait of the World [23.05]
Bispehaugen Ungdomskorp/Tomas Carstensen
Winners of 1st Section
John Barnes CHANCE (1932-1972)
Incantation and Dance (1960) [7.24]
Faberg Musikkforening/Karlsten Dalsrud
Winners of 3rd Section
Alfred REED (1921-2005)
First Suite for Band 1st and 2nd Movements [8.20]
OK Janitsjar/Benny Solli; Knut Harald Jensen
2nd Place in 3rd Section
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) arr. Curnow
Jupiter from The Planets Suite [8.43]
Malvik Musikkorps/Bjorn Erik Heggli
2nd Place in 4th Section
Andres VALERO-CASTELLS (b.1973)
La Vall de la Murta [25.19]
Sarpsborg Janitsjarkorps/Geir Holm
2nd Place in Elite Section
rec. Trondheim, 31 March-1 April 2006.
DOYEN DOYCD213 [71:15 + 73:17]



These two CDs are a must for connoisseurs of wind band music. They contain highlights from the 23rd Norwegian Wind Band Championship, which took place in Trondheim on 31st March and 1st April 2006. The repertoire performed is very varied ranging from classic wind band works such as Holst's First Suite in E-flat to contemporary Norwegian music.
 
The Dragefjellets Musikkorps (Bergen Symphonic Band) are an elite division amateur wind band. They have won the National Wind Band Championship six times and judging by this recording that is no surprise. With close ties to the Grieg Academy of Music at the University of Bergen, many members are current or former academy students.
 
Stig Nordhagen is a contemporary Norwegian composer. His work, Variations on a folk theme from Valdres, is a spectacular and difficult piece. A sombre start leads to an impressive climax followed by a quieter passage featuring a solo muted trumpet. Generally the standard of playing is very high but there are a few unfortunate split notes in some of the brass solos. The woodwind and percussion playing are of a very high standard indeed. The opening is mostly quite dissonant but does lead to a jazzier section featuring saxophones accompanied by some interesting brass articulation. This all leads to a fantastic climax after which the audience may think the piece has ended, but the percussion fade away leaving the solo bass clarinet and bassoon to end with the folk theme. There is some beautiful solo bassoon playing at the end. Lovely.
 
David Gillingham is a prolific contemporary American composer who has an international reputation for works written for band and percussion. Many of his works are now standards of the wind band repertoire, as is this work Galactic Empires, performed on this CD by Musikklaget Lurlat. Gillingham's philosophy is 'to create music with an underlying purpose and that emanates a sense of heart'. This recording was obviously made in a much smaller hall than the first piece. It is a closer and more intimate recording, which means that the individual instruments can be heard with much greater clarity. This can be dangerous in a recording of an amateur band with all the clicking of the keys and the occasional split note. Indeed there a few split brass notes here and the playing is not always together. Immediately we are thrown into Star Wars territory with battle scenes linked by more tranquil music played on the celesta, which always makes me think of twinkling stars. Some quirky woodwind playing represents various intergalactic creatures. There are some beautiful woodwind solos, notably the cor anglais, flute, flugel horn and soprano saxophone. The whole piece leads to a triumphant finale, which is well handled by the band.
 
Holst's First Suite in E-flat for Military Band is a classic wind band piece, known and loved the world over. In 1909 when this was composed, the majority of concert band music consisted of transcriptions of orchestral pieces. This makes this work a landmark because it is one of the original pieces for wind band that has been transcribed for orchestra. The First Suite is in three movements. Although the main theme sounds like a folk tune, it is in fact an original theme by Holst. The first movement is a Chaconne. The eight bar melody is started by the lower brass and woodwind and repeated sixteen times throughout the movement. On the recording the Holmlia Konsertorkester, despite being in the fourth section of the competition, cope admirably well with the complexities of the structure. The lower brass and woodwind struggle slightly with the pesante opening but the upper wind compensate for this with some fine playing on their entry. There is also some splendid woodwind quaver work in the brillante section which contrasts well with the heavy pesante. The alto saxophone solo is particularly to be commended. The movement ends with a suitably stirring climax which is well handled by the players. The second movement is an intermezzo. This moves swiftly and here shows some well-articulated and lively oboe and trumpet playing. This movement is a good example of the different timbres of the concert band sound and this is demonstrated well by the musicians here. However, the more lyrical euphonium solo is overshadowed by a rather loud accompaniment. The third movement is a march. Holst really wanted this to be played at strict march tempo and I feel that the Holmlia Konsertorkester take it too fast. However there is much to be admired in the fine brass playing and particularly the renowned trombone part in the finale.
 
The winners of the second section were the Sande Musikkorps who give a fine performance of Egmont by the Belgian composer Bert Appermont. This is the title of Goethe's tragedy about Egmont and his dreams of liberty and conquest over cruelty and repression. Appermont bases much of his music on historical legends. It is a very stirring and shows the composer’s English training; the opening sounds as though it is based on an English folksong. This moves on to a more complex rhythmic section with some exciting soprano saxophone playing and a good trumpet and horn solo. There is a real Spanish flavour to this part of the work and this is heightened by the use of the classical guitar in the middle. This in turn leads to the last part of the work in which a low bass solo leads to a funeral march and a suitably triumphant conclusion. The Sande Musikkorps were deserved winners of the second section with this fine interpretation. Much to be admired is the fast brass work and some intricate horn playing. But what happens at the end? A clanger appears to have been dropped! A delight to listen to.
 
The Paganini Variations by Philip Wilby are well know in the brass band world as a test piece for competitions. They were originally a BBC commission in 1991 for the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. The Variations are played here in an arrangement for concert band by M. Scott McBride. This piece still works best just for brass band and indeed this arrangement is very brass-dominated with, at times, very little for the upper woodwind to do. The brass from the Halsen Musikkforening are fine players with wonderful solos from the euphonium, trombone and horn. At times the saxophonists are too loud particularly over some finely intricate clarinet playing. Inevitably I suppose on a live recording there will be some unwelcome background noise and this is apparent during the oboe solo in the more lyrical movement which, sad to say, also has some rather harsh clarinet playing. However this is a very enjoyable performance which was obviously much appreciated by the audience!
 
Wait of the World is the third instalment in the series Stormworks by the American composer Stephen Melillo. Here it is played by the winners of the first section, Bispehaugen Ungsdomskorps who I have to congratulate for having English on their website! They are Trondheim's best symphonic wind band and consist of young amateur students in the Trondheim area. As winners of the first section they are now eligible to compete in the elite section in 2007. This is the highlight of all the recordings. A good wind band requires not only superb brass and wind but also a stunning percussion section. This is very apparent on this track, as the percussionists of the Bispehaugen Ungsdomkorps are excellent and well supported by the use of piano and harp. The whole piece is beautifully written for wind band. It is arranged in three movements, each of which is divided into dramatic, dissonant sections contrasting with more lyrical slower episodes which fully explore the huge array of tonal colours and textures available. There are some very stylish woodwind solos throughout - notably from the alto saxophonist. Unfortunately the terrific climax at the end is slightly marred by some rather careless horn playing but otherwise this is a superb and stirring recording.
 
The winners of the third section were Faberg Musikkforening with this performance of Incantation and Dance by the American composer John Barnes Chance. This is another classic from the concert band repertoire. Chance specialized in composing for concert bands and more especially with young people in mind, so this is ideally suited for a competition such as this. Incantation and Dance also relies on a strong percussion section and much credit has to be given to the excellent percussionists. A solid and strong performance.
 
Albert Reed was one of America's most prolific and frequently played twentieth century composers. OK Janitsjar who came second in the third section play the first two movements of his First Suite for Band; a less than inspiring choice but admirably played. One wonders why they chose to end with the slow second movement especially as there appear to be a few problems with the horn section towards the end and an inexcusable squeak from one of the clarinettists.
 
Yet another band, the Malvik Musikkorps, chose to do a further piece by Holst. There are many arrangements of various movements of The Planets for concert band, many less than satisfactory. However this arrangement by Curnow of Jupiter is one of the better ones. There are a few split notes and intonation problems and the tempo never really gets going. The accompaniment to I vow to thee my country is much too loud, being dominated by the clarinet section. The saxophones are also very strident at times. Probably the least satisfying track on the CD.
 
The final track on this two CD set features the Sarpsborg Janitsjarkorps from Sarpsborg, founded in 1923. They are a well established and renowned band in Norway, having won the championship twice before. They came second in the elite class with this stunning performance of La Vall de la Murta by the young Spanish composer Andres Valero-Castells. This is full of intense rhythms as displayed by the percussionists at the beginning of the finale. With its unusual chord structure, combined with articulate passages for the varied instrumentation, it is highly complex and superbly performed here.
 
A thoroughly enjoyable couple of CDs for the symphonic wind band lover.
 
Lynda Baker
 



 


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