Sunday, 26 January 2020

MUSIC REVIEW: The Brighouse And Rastrick Band - The RNCM, Manchester.


As part of a weekend-long festival celebrating brass instruments with specific reference to brass bands at The Royal Northern College Of Music in Manchester, several of the country's more well-known and renowned brass bands performed short concerts. One such band was Yorkshire's own Brighouse And Rastrick Band.

As a personal aside I had been wanting the chance of hearing this famous band play now for quite some time, but for one reason or another had never been able to, at least not since two of my relatives left the band! Yes, many years ago the Hewitt brothers were a part of this celebrated band, and I haven't seen them play live since they left!

However, back to this afternoon. The concert was 80 minutes' long played without interval, and the four considerable pieces they chose to play were pieces that one would not typically associate with a brass band, and were much more technically demanding than your standard Oompah marching fayre. In fact, they were symphonic pieces of classical music, played with the absence of strings and woodwind.

As the band walked onto the stage you knew instinctively that they were going to be rather special. Their poise, their demeanour, and an air of confident professionalism swept through the auditorium. Introduced by a lady from the RNCM, giving a little insight and background into each piece as they went along, this was one of the most organised (dare I use the word regimented?), interesting and informative concerts I have seen in a very long time. Furthermore, all of this was before any of the band had even blown a single note!

And of course they did not disappoint at all. Every single member of this band could easily have been a soloist, and yet they worked superbly together as an ensemble, and the sheer quality of the sound they produced was incredible. Once you lose both wood and string instruments from an ensemble, the whole timbre of the soundscape changes considerably, and although one is used to hearing such sounds in military processions etc, it took me a while before I understood fully that this was not a full symphony orchestra, and it was just brass with percussion, such was the skill in their playing making rather loud, brash and often quite rudimentary instruments so melifluous and melodious.

Conducted by a hugely watchable and passionate Russell Gray, the first piece they played was a modern tone poem, all about a day in the life of one of England's last surviving preserved wetlands, Wicken Fen. Composed by Christopher Gunning, this was a hugely evocative and lyrical piece of writing which did indeed take the listener on a journey. Melodic and dramatic, stirring and harmonic, Gunning had written a contemporary piece of true Romantic proportion, and it was a pure delight.

Following this, RNCM tutor and member of The Fine Arts Brass Ensemble, tuba player Leslie Neish took to the stage to perform the solo in John Golland's Tuba Concerto. the version played this afternoon was the premiere performance in a new arraangement for brass band by Paul Hindmarsh.  The tuba isn't necessarily an instrument one would immediately associate with concertos, and it was the first time in my life - as far as I can recall - ever having heard a tuba concerto. What Neish couldn't do with his tuba wasn''t worth knowing. I have never heard this rather cumbersome and ungainly-looking instrument sound so light and playful. From the first movement's lively, jagged and crashing rhythms and time signatures, through the second movement's sedate and melodic gradual crescendo of harmony - [I loved the middle section's call and response between marimba and tuba], through to the third and final movement's jolly hornpipe. A contemporary piece which flirts with harmonic experimentation, but remains tuneful and melodic.

The third piece this afternoon was also a premiere performance of this brass band version. Paul McGhee hales from Corby in Northamptonshire, and his brass band arrangement of his own composition, 'From Koris By' is a short evocational 'landscape' of that town from it's beginnings as an 8th century Viking settelement [a settlement under the leadership of Kori, and the word 'by' being Danish for 'village' or 'town'] through the town's industrial history to the present day and a hope for the town's future. The piece could be described as a series of short musical vignettes strung together to tell a story. Starting with a sliding trombone, to a denouement of loud and frenetic marching bringing it to a rather surprising end.

The band ended their concert on what can only be descibed as a witty showpiece. Philip Wilby's 'Lowry Sketchbook' is a work in three short movements which take inspiration from and pay deference to Salford's greatest fine artist, L S Lowry. The first movement is a cityscape, and one can clearly hear the people hurrying about their business (glockenspiel), whilst the fuller chordal structures of the brass played smoke-filled factory-style harmonies to give the painting the depth and character. One could almsot see iconic works such as 'Coming From The Mill' or 'Going To Work' as the band played. The second movement turned to Lowry's portrait painting and in particular a rather famous and enigmatic work titled, 'The Man With Red Eyes'. A slow, almost hymn-like melody with lush harmonies. The final movement, Peel Park's Bandstand, was their piece-de-resistamce however, a jaunty, bright triple-tonguing fanfare to end this wonderful concert with a flourish! Bravo!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 25/1/20 


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