2009 round of qualifying contests for the National Brass Band
Championship of Great Britain is nearly upon us. Doyen has once
again produced the CD that must surely be its number one revenue
earner every year: the five test-pieces spanning all five sections,
played by a select choice of top bands and conductors.
and down the country bandsmen and women will be eager to hear
what their respective test-piece has in store for them before
the regular rounds of arduous rehearsals begin leading up to
the contests in March. Itís a ritual that has gone on for many
years although it is only in recent times that players and enthusiasts
have had the opportunity to listen to all five test pieces,
neatly and conveniently contained on one CD.
the Championship Section this year it is the music of Gilbert
Vinter that is celebrated in the composerís centenary year with
Salute to Youth, his first work for brass band dating.
It was also the piece used to test the Championship Section
bands in the Regional Championships in 1962. It was to launch
a brass band composing career that saw Vinter produce a number
of major works in the eight years until his death.
is particularly pleasing to see that the test-piece selectors
have favoured new works by up and coming composers for the First,
Second and Third Sections. The Fourth Section bands will play
The Talisman by Frank Hughes, a man who learnt about
brass bands from the inside. This was during his years as a
member of the cornet section of the Fodenís Motor Works Band
at a time when the late Harry Mortimer was still closely associated
with the Cheshire outfit.
the title of Vinterís Salute to Youth implies, it is
full of vigour, both melodically and in its unstoppable energy,
the inspiration being provided by the composerís own son, Andrew.
Cast in three movements bearing the titles Resilience,
Romance and Relaxation it is a piece more than
capable of testing bands at the top level, nearly fifty years
on from its composition.††
performance under Peter Parkes is a muscular one, not perhaps
the most subtle but with some excellent individual playing and
enjoyable nonetheless. For something special though, turn to
Black Dyke (also under Peter Parkes) and the Chandos CD, The
Complete Champions. Dykeís recording is memorable indeed,
although the performance of John McCabeís Cloudcatcher Fells
on the same disc is even better.
Cole is a composer that has emerged from within the brass band
movement itself, having graduated from Leeds University in 2004
following studies with Philip Wilby. His demanding Pentacle
is going to provide a stern test of First Section bands. It
is cast, as the title implies, in five movements with the number
five also playing a significant part in the harmonic and rhythmic
structure of the music. The test will be one for the whole band,
although there is some highly exposed solo work to contend with,
notably for soprano cornet. Amidst the technical challenges
there is also real music to be found in the lengthy second movement.
Although Fodenís Richardson takes all of this in its stride
with a striking recording of the work, there is no mistaking
the challenges that lie ahead for the competing bands.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
Priceís New World Sketches will test the Second Section
bands and is far lighter in tone than the Cole. It combines
Gershwin-inspired material in the opening movement Sidewalk
(American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue are
both in there), spirituals in the central The Deep South
and a Copland-like Rodeo to round things off.††
is undemanding music on the listener whilst the light-hearted
atmosphere will no doubt make it a popular piece to rehearse
over many weeks in the band room. It is fair to say that is
unlikely to go down as a classic of the genre however. As one
would expect, Black Dykeís recording under Nicholas Childs is
suitably secure and appealing.
in the Third Section are going to have a fine time with Andrew
Bakerís Once and Future King. It is a work that is certainly
not short on drama, being rooted in Arthurian legend for its
inspiration. Baker is another ďhome grownĒ composer having played
cornet with Northop Youth Band in North Wales before studying
composition at Nottingham University with Nicholas Sackman.
music is bold, effective and filmscore-like in its impact. The
titles of each of the movements, Tintagel, Lyonesse
and Badon Hill are vividly painted. In the atmospheric
Lyonesse the music of Edward Gregson is discernible whilst
the colourful depiction of Arthurís last battle with the Saxons
in Badon Hill brings the piece to a rousing conclusion.
The Cory Band might not be challenged technically by the music
but it is quite obvious from the playing that they enjoyed recording
the piece immensely.
than Arthurian legend, Frank Hughes takes his inspiration for
The Talisman from the Crusades, more specifically the
end of the Third Crusade. Itís a piece that will give Fourth
Section bands much to think about. In a section where the standard
of the bands is perhaps the most mixed of all, it will prove
a very stern challenge indeed for some bands. It is melodically
attractive if stylistically conservative music though and should
be pleasing to rehearse for all concerned. Coryís performance
once again provides a good measure of the work for the bands
Salute to Youth by far the best known of the Regional
test pieces this year, it is Graham Coleís Pentacle and
Andrew Bakerís Once and Future King that are the pick
of the pieces at lower section level. If there is one certainty
about the Regional Championships however, it is that all of
the test-pieces will no doubt throw up their usual rounds of
discussion and controversy.