Monday, 28 January 2019
REVIEW: Foden's Brass Band Concert - RNCM, Manchester
The Royal Northern College of Music’s (RNCM) Brass Band Festival kicked off with a concert from 'National Brass Band Champions of Great Britain' Foden's Band, formerly Britannia Band, and the opening recital was attended by enthusiasts of all degrees, from all across the globe. The festival is regarded as one of the most important festivals of brass band music, often featuring new commissions, ground breaking performances of contemporary repertoire as well as classics of the brass band repertoire. It is described as ‘the only place to see all of Britain’s top brass bands in a non-competitive environment’.
Under the baton of guest conductor Dr James Gourlay, who travelled from the USA, under the leadership of Musical Director Michael Fowles, compere and artistic director Paul Hindmarsh (known from BBC Radio 4’s Festival of Brass) welcomed those in attendance before introducing John McCabe’s ‘Overture: Salamander’ which was a very ambient piece which seems to depict a sequence of scenes. Played at tremendous speed in parts, each note played was matched perfectly in time by the percussion section.
Second on the programme was William Heaton’s ‘Trombone Concerto’ which allowed guest soloist and seasoned trombonist Ian Bousfield to speak a bit about how he got into the piece before performing it. A score from 1945, written with a connection to The Salvation Army Staff Band, originally as an Oboe concerto with a String orchestra, it was reworked for brass, ingeniously with great effect and success. The four tubas to the back of the section made up for the absence of the percussion section. It was a real nostalgic offering with nods to the 1950s and a really austere piece.
After the interval, where audience members were able to peruse a selection of sheet music, instruments and recordings in the foyer, we were treated to what I found to be the most inspiring and emotive part of the evening. As the band’s Composer-in-Residence Andy Scott was welcomed to the stage to introduce and present his final composition for the band after a ten year tenure, the whole auditorium was in awe of his talent and enthusiasm and sat adoringly with interest. The piece entitled ‘Edwin’ is named so after a former member of the band who was called up to serve in the war. The band begged him not to join but their efforts were in vain and he sadly did not return and did not get the chance to meet his son. On the soprano cornet donated to the band with a proud inscription, when the time came, Principal Cornettist Mark Wilkinson played a solo as part of the piece. This only added to the most special piece in the programme which was a world premiere(!). Andy gave a special mention to ‘unsung hero’ Jim Charles, who is now the band’s librarian, who has been with them for over 50 years.
The penultimate piece of the night was Henry Geehl’s ‘Threnody’ (for former conductor Fred Mortimer). A rather uplifting piece which had the whole hall silent. We ended with ‘Severn Suite’; a piece written in 1930, and the result of an invitation to write a test piece for the National Brass Band Championship. There are five movements, which follow each other without breaks: 1) Introduction (Worcester Castle), 2) Toccata (Tournament), 3) Fugue (The Cathedral), 4) Minuet (Commandery) and 5) Coda - Lento. The ‘Fugue’ is a reworking of a recent but unpublished piano piece, ‘Fugue in C minor (1923)’ and the ‘Minuet’ is based on wind chamber works written in the 1870s, but the remaining three movements are, so far as is known, original compositions.
The finale/encore was led by James Gourlay and was the traditional ‘Amazing Grace’, in a sectioned and rather dynamic form which worked very well and enhanced the patriotism of the genre of Brass.
Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 25/1/19