The Nationals 2015
By Various Brass Bands
Having received this disc to review, I have to say that I have never been a fan of either the regionals series or the nationals' recordings. I come from the conductor's side of the fence and have never listened to a recording of a test piece chosen for a contest I was preparing a band for, ' to see how it goes'. I suppose I am a bit "old school" and of a time when they weren't freely available and you had to 'listen' to what you read from the score.
Having said that, this is a very good recording and deserves listening to. I guess the programme content was effectively pre-ordained but the concert items by the excellent Flowers Band are very good. The quality of the live recordings at The Centaur from the lower section finals is very good indeed - of studio standard. Personally I don't think the RAH recording is of the same high standard, even taking the natural acoustic of the great hall into account.
Jonathan Bates is, without doubt, on a crest of a wave with his recent compositions being used widely in concerts and contests. His Overture on God Save the Queen opens this CD. If you read this on a concert programme and expect a 'typical' overture - hold on carefully! Very up-beat and virtuosic in the middle passages for euphonium. It is a cracker, short enough to have impact as a great concert opener. Stylish playing led by Paul Holland and Flowers, even though there is notable untunefulness in parts at the opening.
The fourth section test piece -Visions by Dan Price is next. Usk Brass and MD Jeff Jones, perform this piece so well. A stiff test with it's quiet and exposed opening. Clear evidence of a band on good form and well prepared. I had to re-read which section this band were from as they show excellent sound throughout the band. Notable for very good percussion. I know that as they went off stage, they will have been feeling so good about this performance, really good to listen to.
The Graces of Love - third section, performed by champions Houghton Brass is next. This piece is, in my opinion, less of a technical test for third section bands than the fourth section piece. Houghton play very musically and I enjoyed the lyrical playing very much.
Zigeunerweisen originally by Sarasate arranged by Jonny Bates follows and is the next extract from the RAH concert by The Flowers Band. David Childs performs brilliantly and shows his usual technical brilliance - including 'technical fireworks' that seems to please the audience. Thought, perhaps is it time (again) for all soloists to wow the audience with pure musical beauty and lyrical playing instead of the technical 'tricks' and rips? Not detracting from this performance - just a thought.
The Snaring of the Sun played by second section champions Ebbw Vale Band is a musical treat for the listener, again played well by a band on form. I really like the musical shape that MD Gareth Ritter brings to this performance.
The Alchymist's Journal features first section champions Goodwick Band and Matthew Jenkins. This band shows that their recent form is based upon good basics and excellent soloists. Another stiff test, short of the top section in complexity (that's another debate) but nonetheless to play this well in the acoustic of The Centaur shows a good band.
Jonny Bates' music is centre stage again with Flowers Band playing Upon the Celtic Cross.
The Champion Band of Great Britain - Cory Band with Phillip Harper provide the finale for the CD. I heard the whole contest 'live' and enjoyed their performance. The recording gives the listener the opportunity to become the adjudicator - no visual stimuli or distraction. An interesting exercise, notwithstanding the magnificent performance, you are able to spot the very few slips of tuning and ensemble that naturally occur. I guess that is a virtue of the 'live' recording versus the studio version that can, and often does, remove the passion from the "performance"?
Who is this CD for? As an archive, as a reminder for those involved of a great contest? As an enjoyable recording to listen to? Perhaps, it has an audience, but wouldn't be in my car glovebox.
Very interesting to hear the anomalies of test piece selection especially fourth versus third section choices.
1. Overture on God Save the Queen - Jonathan Bates [3.28]
Flowers Band MD: Paul Holland
2. Visions - Dan Price [11.16]
Usk Brass Band MD: Jeff Jones - Winners 4th section
3. The Graces of Love - Oliver Waespi [11.24]
Houghton Brass MD: Tom Gibson - Winners 3rd section
4. Zigeunerweisen - Sarasate Arr: Jonathan Bates [ 6.44]
Euphonium Soloist David Childs with the Flowers Band MD: Paul Holland
5. The Snaring of the Sun - Stephen Roberts [12.22]
Ebbw Vale Brass MD: Gareth Ritter - Winners 2nd section
6. The Alchymist's Journal - Kenneth Hesketh [12.12]
Goodwick Brass Band MD: Matthew Jenkins - Winners 1st section
7. Upon the Celtic Cross - Jonathan Bates [4.34]
Flowers Band MD: Paul Holland
8. Spiriti - Thomas Doss [16.37]
Cory Band MD: Philip Harper - Winners Championship Section