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Regionals 2009
Gilbert VINTER (1909-1969) Salute To Youth (1961) [11:47]; Graham COLE Pentacle [13:39]; Dan PRICE New World Sketches [10:47]; Andrew BAKER The Once and Future King [12:11]; Frank HUGHES The Talisman [10:00]
Williams Fairey Engineering Band/Major Peter Parkes (Vinter); Fodenís Richardson Band/Michael Fowles (Cole); Black Dyke Band/Nicholas J. Childs (Price); Cory Band/Robert Childs (Baker and Hughes)
rec. Morley Town Hall and St. Teiloís Church School, July and August 2008. DDD
DOYEN DOY CD246 [58:29]
Experience Classicsonline


The 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.

Up 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.

In 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.

It 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.

As 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.††

Faireyís 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.

Graham 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.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

Dan 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.††

This 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.

Bands 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.

The 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.

Rather 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 involved.†††

With 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.

Christopher Thomas



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