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European Brass Band Championships 2017

Live Comments – European Brass Band Championships 2017

Brass Band Buizingen – Dial “H” for Hitchcock (Nigel Clarke)

After an incredibly unlucky draw of 1st in both the set test and own choice, Buizingen and Luc Vertommen are up first with a new offering from Nigel Clarke. Subtitled “A Psychological Thriller for Brass Band”, this is vivid and colourful music that paints an account of the golden age of cinema.

The film score references are obvious, with long lush phrases and quasi-jazz chord progressions. Although maybe a little harmonically tamer than Clarke’s usual fare, it is in no way diluted and I could see this becoming a popular own-choice because of the amount of interpretation available to the music.

However it was not without surprises – including some unusual percussion and a “scream” solo!

Buizingen played this with confidence and panache. The “Earthrise” sections were appropriately brutal and some of the phrases were beautifully broad – easy to imagine a landscape shot in a film. A couple of sections took a while to settle, and some nerves crept in with the soloists. A good start to the day!

Star players: Percussion and screamer!

3BA Brass Band – The Triumph of Time (Peter Graham)

Always a brave choice because of the demands placed on the (numerous) soloists, this was an instant hit when premiered by Black Dyke at the 2014 Euros – not least because it won the own choice!

Sensible tempo choices allow the technical sections to feel precise rather than panicked. No major slips in the soloists, but it lacks a bit of forward drive for me. Perhaps a couple more clicks on the metronome would up the excitement.

The slow music is good with gorgeous flugel soloist standing up front. Sensitive band accompaniment and other solo contributions add to this.

Recapitulation into the fast music is dynamite! The instant total dynamic and tonal change from the slow music is hugely effective. Unusually this was a performance that got stronger towards the end – no sense of fatigue here!

Star player: Solo Trombone for a note perfect solo in the jazz influenced section.

Cory Band – Destination Moon (Paul Raphael)

The hall is packed for the defending champions the Cory Band and Phil Harper. Belgian composer “Paul Raphael”  (who doesn’t exist apart from this piece? Suspect!) was inspired by Tin-Tin and the space race.

The start is electrifying, with a rock-solid metric foundation allowing the syncopations to pop out effortlessly. Percussion is effective and never overpowering.

Nice to see Chris Thomas back as he delivers a number of almost flawless solo passages. Horn section technical passages are so tight they sound almost like one player.

Now we’re into some slower music. Baritone is utter quality with not a shade of cut-price euph about it! Small slips from flugel and sop but it doesn’t detract at all.

Interesting to see music that features solos from almost every instrument in the band, and it’s nice to have an extended section of slow music. Euphonium high register is like melted chocolate with the rest of the section smiling at him nailing it. Small tuning issues in solo cornet but otherwise excellent.

Percussion leads up back into some faster music. Formidable trombone section sounds and sop is on fire. Huge sounds but never overblown. Another quality flugel solo brings us to more slow/quiet music. The piece ends almost inaudibly and Philip Harper has the crowd completely captivated.

Altogether an interesting piece with a great (and in my opinion usually neglected) emphasis on slow and quiet music. Very different to the generic “Europeans testpiece” and it could go either way with the adjudicators.

Star players: Can’t choose between Glyn Williams (euphonium) or Chris Thomas (trombone)

Brass Band Schoonhoven – Journey of the Lone Wolf (Simon Dobson)

Schoonhoven and Ivan Meylemans are now onstage to give us today’s first playing of Simon Dobson’s Bartok influenced epic.

Opening is powerful but a little scrappy with splits and intonation difficulties. First dance section is good with a nice light character.

Cornet solo is okay but too quiet, becoming almost non-existent when excellent euphonium joins in. Good trombone.

Flugel is good with only a few small slips. Percussion create a very nice soundscape for flugel to sit on. Euphonium and cornet soloists are pretty good but there now seems to be a generally unsettled feeling.

The next dance section is quite fast and not massively clean. Harmon muted section after that is suitably cold and dark. Ending sounds a little tired. Altogether a commendable effort from Schoonhoven but I think a few too many inaccuracies to place highly today.

Star player: Baritone for a beautiful and flawless solo contribution

Valaisia Brass Band – Goldberg 2012 (Svein Henrik Giske)

A personal favourite of mine, Goldberg 2012 (written for the Norwegian Nationals 2012) takes extracts of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and mutates them through jazz and funk. All of this coexists on a flexible metric framework based on higher tuplets.

Effective opening with percussion more present than on most recordings of this work – it’s a nice touch. Brave trombone (nice slide vib) and especially marimba. Good sop, perfectly in tune with muted trombone despite a small split.

First fast section is taken at quite a lick, but it flows well even if all technical details aren’t entirely audible. Good even cornet quintuplets.

Now for the first statement of the Goldberg aria. Stylish cornet, flugel and horn with nicely shaped ornamentation. Band accompanies well.

Basses are very funky with good interruptions from trombones and cornets. The jazz solos are well handled with trombone fully committed to attempting an almost impossible couple of bars! I’m enjoying the integration of proper jazz vibrato and inflections and I think it works well in this music.

Excellent euphonium and cornet solos in this slow gentle music. Once again the percussion are doing a great job at creating a magical soundscape.

Good almost traditional brass band sound on the majestic variation extract which quickly morphs into full-on jazz resplendent with doits and bebop licks. Very impressive technique on display here!

A strong ending to an impressive account of one of the most challenging pieces in the repertoire.

Star players: Percussion section – always stylish when backing (as in most of this piece) and great work xylophones on the hocketed solo!

Tredegar Band – Prophecies (Gavin Higgins)

Up next we’ve got a premiere from another one of the new wave of brass band composers (which also includes Simon Dobson, Paul McGhee, Lucy Pankhurst etc). Tredegar have collaborated extensively with Gavin Higgins, most notably with their Dark Arteries project with the Rambert Ballet.

This piece is inspired by the prophecies of the 16th century astrologer Nostradamus and the beginning is suitably dark with practise, cup, and bucket mutes as well as an opera gong – Innovative sounds abound here!

First climax is huge with cacophonous cornets and a massive trombone sound. Basses are particularly good here with lots of technique on display.

We’re now into the “battered din of war”  and it’s presented in the form of one of Gavin Higgins’ grotesque grooves (a bit like in Trample, Destroy…). Powerful full band sounds with percussion leading the way.

Mutes are back in (cups this time) for a quiet section. Very atmospheric as clusters build and collapse again. Good cornet and flugel solos and euph/bari section are spot on!

Some very sinister tremolos lead to an evil (to play!) high cornet unison line. This is handled well and now another transitional section with extremely difficult cornet and euphonium solos played with bravura.

More cacophony (meant in the best possible way!) but the lines of interest (now in the horns) are never lost. Nice almglocken – a brass band first?

More great bass sounds and nice to see the pedal register being utilised for the euphoniums.

There is a literal sense the world is ending with tam-tams, high range low band clashes and a general sense of chaos. Incredible sop with a top C that seems to last an age to finish.

A great performance of some proper contemporary classical music through the brass band medium. I think some fatigue may have crept into towards the end but it remained riveting. Who knows what the adjudicators will think of that!

Star players: The bass section and monster soprano cornet!

Paris Brass Band – HorrorShow (Simon Dobson)

Our second dose of Dobson today is a premiere that explores themes of senseless violence in today’s world – no doubt inspired by the 2015 Paris terror attacks.

A lovely high intensity horn chorale begins the work with scitterings underneath hinting at what is to come. Paris’ DIY bass mutes make another appearance!

The first major climax has some great high euph and sop. Secure cornet solo and now we’re into a dance-like section. Ensemble is good and the fluttertongues are well integrated into the musical line.

Trombone tune is great, with octaves tuned impeccably. A large cluster chord is ended perfectly together with bass drum – like a light has been switched off!

2nd Euphonium solo is superb with large intervals negotiated well. 1st Euphonium then follows this equally well.

Now a massively heavy riotjazz-esque groove hits with bass drum, china cymbal backbeat and harsh tubular bell minor 2nds. The tempo is secure and the sound does not get out of control.

Strong basses and percussion are right on the money rhythmically.

Cornet and euphonium duet is exceptional and leads us into a much gentler music. Trombone soloist stands and is brilliant despite a slip at the beginning. Some tuning issues in flugel and horn but is still overall very good.

Cornet and sop duet not quite together but this doesn’t detract too much. The groove is back and the technical aspects are handled well. The high euphoniums are again shining above the band in glorious fashion. Good dovetailing in the cornets/soprano.

The intensity does not get lost in the final chords and the cut off is impeccable. A strong performance of a great new addition to the repertoire!

Star player: Both euphoniums, with a special mention to principal cornet.

Brighouse and Rastrick Band – Visitations from Beyond (Thomas Doss)

Next is a new work from Thomas Doss, who is becoming a Europeans staple. This piece is influenced by Bach’s chorale O herzensangst, O bangigkeit und zagen!’ (BMV 40) – (‘O anguish, o anxiety and trembling!’).

The piece opens in typical Doss style with mutes all around and lush chords interrupted by ominous trombone glissandi and percussion.

A conch shell heralds the start of a more active section with stunning trombone and cornet sounds. Some crazy technical passages are impressive and now the chorale returns.

The chorale is always played in a nice lyrical style completely at odds with the violent interruptions. Trombones are dominating the fast runs with every note coming through with perfect clarity.

Solo cornet does well but soprano sounds insecure. Nice pulsating feel coming from the backrow and percussion. Featured trombone and euphonium passages are solid. Extremely good technical solo from the 2nd soprano player.

Very interesting and effective use of percussion.

Unfortunately I had some streaming issues during this and missed a lot of it!

Eikanger-Bjørsvik Musikklag – Fraternity (Thierry  Deleruyelle)

Written as the set-piece (and chosen for the 2017 British Open) for the 2016 European Brass Band Championships, this work is inspired by the 1906 Douai mining disaster.

The opening euphonium solo is good and the basses and percussion create an appropriately dark texture for the solo to sit on.

The full band sound is rich and splendid with tidy technical interruptions. Solo horn does well but it feels slightly rushed. Cornet follows and does very well on a tricky cadenza. Baritone is excellent with a good sound and technical flair.

Trombone and horn trios are nice with a good balance. Xylophone and solo cornet not entirely together at the start of the tune but it soon settles.

First-class percussion soli – so rhythmic. The technical passages are well handled and the music is well shaped.

Now this quite section has good bowed percussion and nice muted sounds. Trombone chorale is foreboding and nicely in tune. Sop and rep are beautiful and the euphonium follows in suite.

The Fraternity Prayer is lusciously lyrical and always in tune with good tone. The dynamic contrasts are great, holding back until the music really needs it.

Eikanger have done very well here with the brave choice of playing last years set work. I think this is certainly a contender for a top placing!

Star player: Solo Cornet

Concord Brass Band – Journey of the Lone Wolf (Simon Dobson)

Concord now with our second Lone Wolf of the day.

Opening has a good drive about it although intonation is not always secure.

A couple of mispitches in the first folk dance but overall not bad.

Good cornet solo with far better balance than the earlier performance. Euphonium also decent. Maestoso is powerful with dominant backrow.

Trombone trio is impressive with a direct sound. Cornet and horn do well at the macabre dance.

Flugel remains seated for the Night Music, and starts slightly uncertainly. However she recovers well and it is very nice. Trombone is generally secure with a good sound but his tempo is not the same as the band’s.

Baritone and euphonium are both good and cornet follows similarly with only tiny slips.

Euph/horn top E/Bs before the third movement grate and spoil the integrity of the chord however it’s certainly exciting and full of energy!

The con fuoco is well handled technically but the tempo runs away and it gets a little messy. Sop is pinging out the high notes admirably!

A committed and commendable performance unfortunately marred by numerous tuning inaccuracies.

Star player: Solo Trombone

Brass Band Willebroek – The Turing Test (Simon Dobson)

Another European premiere from Simon Dobson up next, inspired by the life of Alan Turing.

An evocative opening with gentle dissonances, superball malleted thundersheet and plunger muted trombones.

Now a meccanico feel with fluttered interruptions and big accented. The tempo is locked well and everything seems to be in it’s proper place.

Baritone stands and delivers a well crafted solo. More flutters leads us to another more groove-based section. The difficult and disjunct unison cornet lines are handled well.

A dovetailed trombone crescendo gives the impression of a Shepard scale and this is followed by a highly impressive trombone solo. Euphoniums follow with a nicely rhythmic line. This grows and the band play complex lines (with only occasional splits) above an ominous bass tune.

Both solo cornet and euphonium stand and play solos very well – euph pulls off a very daring fade to nothing on the top Db. The following bass quartet is good and well balanced.

Flugel and horn duet is excellent with quality musical shaping. A loud tutti band section follows and flugel once again appears out of the mists of the final loud chord.

Fluttertongue crescendos are very well shaped and pop out of the texture with no problem. Great bass trombone sound – like someone just ripped a phone book in half!

My face is hurting watching this, but the band are taking it in their stride with hardly a hint at fatigue! A massively intense series of chords top of an impressive performance of yet another quality addition to the top section repertoire.

Star player: Flugelhorn

Brass Band Oberösterreich – A Brussels Requiem (Bert Appermont)

Written as a non-programmatic reflection on the 2016 Brussels terror attacks, the four movements of this work are linked by the use of the children’s song Au Claire de la Lune, which is used as a cipher for the loss of innocence.

A contemplative opening features the cornet and euphonium who both do fairly well although there is the odd tuning issue. The horns and sop follow this and also do nicely.

Now for the militaristic second section and the music is hugely rhythmic. The tonguing is great and precisely articulated.

Trombone soloist was exceptional – take a bow! Xylophone is also a brilliant virtuoso display. This band handles fast music impeccably with verve and panache.

This transitions (slightly strangely in my opinion) into a chorale which is played in an appropriately contrasting fashion. Offstage solo are reminiscent of Mahler but not quite in tune.

An extended trombone and tuba chorale is splendid and solo euphonium joins to sit on top lyrically. Good traditional cornet sound for the principals solo.

Soprano floats above the band with perfect tuning in this slow music. More fast music now and once again the trombones and percussion are dominant and excellent. Solo trombone has no problems at all with the slightly extreme range demands and is fully in control.

Now a section that reminds me of Tom and Jerry leads us to the end and once again the technical demands are handled with ease.

Overall a virtuoso reading of a strange piece- many of the style changes made no sense to me as a listener. I’m not sure the slow music lived up to the heights of the fast playing but it was certainlya very good performance.

Star player: Solo Trombone for always seeming perfectly in control regardless of the technical challenges presented!

Own Choice Predictions

The standard of playing was so high that it could be anyone! But here’s my guess:

  1. Valaisia Brass Band
  2. Eikanger-Bjorsvik Brass
  3. Cory
  4. Brass Band Willebroek

Dark Horse: Paris Brass Band


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