Review: Waratah Brass Presents ‘Brass with Class’

Brass with Class: Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre, Warners Bay
Waratah Brass (Assistant Musical Director Mr Rowan Taylor)

Waratah Brass

Sunday 8th July 2012 is a day to remember in the concert life of this group of performers who collectively make up the members of Waratah Brass for it was one concert that came with little fanfare in the media or community, but was one of this ensembles crowning performances for the year of 2012 thus far. This also coupled with the whole concert being conducted by the very able Assistant Conductor Rowan Taylor.          

As is the usual the band entered precisely on time as advertised, stood for the arrival of the Conductor, promptly sat and simply commenced what was a most enjoyable afternoon of superb music making. From the beginning the music was well balanced, had great intonation and attention to the little bits on the music page, that make a performance – ‘that little bit better’!

The concert commenced with a work that was published back in 1932 being the Canadian composer James Merritt’s Tour de Force March “The Canadian”. When The Salvation Army published this work it was in stark contrast to any march they had previously released in their Festival Series music publications. Forget the 3 or 4 minute snappy work; this is a piece that tests any of the best of the best.

A little over 7 minutes in length this is a march played at a stately pace loaded with notes that just go on and on but in a brilliant display of masterly composition. This also includes a most famous 4 note 2nd Horn solo up to a top F, and yes we did hear it well and true. Credit also to Solo Horn player Leonie Wilks for a lovely melodic line of the works theme Canada’s National Anthem: O’ Canada. 

As indicated by Band President Grahame Scott in his well versed compere notes the next item was by Goff Richards and a well known number played by just about all the leading bands of the world. Waratah performed such with great control and feeling. This indeed was our Sunday drive in a “Country Scene”. Principal Cornet Clarence Leung adding just the right touches to delight a packed audience in Performing Arts Centre.

Therese CurryThe bands varied soloists performed to their usual high standard with the afternoon’s offerings no exception in quality with each being equally well supported by the band. Euphonium Stephen Grice with the Robert Childs “A Little Prayer” was a moving rendition, and once again cool cat Soprano Cornet David Wilks with “Sugar Blues” (A. Morrison) were excellent offerings that the audience warmly applauded. Band Secretary Therese Curry displayed her talents with the technically demanding “Tambourin” (Gossec/ E. Wilson) as a Baritone Solo. Therese is a leading exponent on this instrument which made a nice change from those generally heard in concerts. 

Greg BennettMention needs to go to Greg Bennett who plays E Flat Bass but on this occasion performed on Trombone “Suite for Trombone and Band” composed by the great Don Lusher. Containing some of the known ‘Lusher’ musical nuances of glissandos and upper register work for Greg who is just 18 years old this was an excellent performance and very well done.

There were several standout highlights for me in this concert with one of these being another airing of the bands ‘2012 East Coast of Australia Band Championships’ winning Sacred item of Leonard Ballentine’s song setting “I Know Thou Art Mine”. Based on the delightful hymn ‘Unsworth’ this rendition was equally reminiscent of their June winning performance. Lovely melodic work, attention to crescendos, light and shade, this was truly music at its best.

To end the first half of this afternoon, Offenbach’s Can Can was altered in such a way even the composer would I believe have had a laugh. Rearranged under the title “Can Can’t” (G. Colmer) this had the audience in stitches. Conductor Rowan Taylor must have been beside himself when one of the players actually stopped playing to take a mobile phone call after the phone had rang and rang during playing. All in great humour and sounding easy, but as with lots of these types of pieces very hard to bring off and perform.  

Opening the 2nd half JJ Richards great march with its mass of chromatic runs through the entire band “Midwest” (arr. D. Broadbent) set us up for the balance of this excellent concert. The march keep its fast pace from top to end and was a good display of control playing but attention to detail.

It has been said that just about every person knows what they were doing and where they were on that day 31 August 1997 when the world lost Princess Diana. Marking the 15th year since that sad event Waratah performed the work written to commemorate her passing by the New York composer Joseph Turrin “Hymn For Diana”.  Set in a hymn like arrangement this, as well as apart from the reason behind the work, is simply moving music. The band were at their best in sound and controlled playing during this rendition and at the end the virtual pin drop could have been heard. For me this was the best item of this concert and worth attending just to hear that one number. 

In contrast to what we had just been privileged to hear, the Mick Jagger and Keith Richard’s classic “Ruby Tuesday” (A. Catherall) full of superb Soprano Cornet work courtesy of David Wilks and its array of percussion was a good addition to the concert and one the audience appeared to like very much. This was followed by a lovely work written as the theme to the 1986 movie ‘An American Tale’ and arranged for brass by Darrol Barry “Somewhere Out There”. Light in sound to begin but building to a full band ending this is a very nice piece of composing.

To end the concert Irving Berlin’s well known “Puttin’ On the Ritz” (S. Roberts) took us back to when people in the 1800’s put on their ritzy outfits to head out on the town. Not a lot has changed in over 200 years in that respect. This was a fine display of good playing and a good end to what was an excellent concert.

As with most Waratah concerts following prolonged applause from the audience the band bought as an encore what is becoming a signature march for the group, another JJ Richards march “The Waltonian”. It was easy to see the band love playing this number with the last item given to detail just as the first one of the day, which is what makes this group just that much better….Their approach to each work, obvious enjoyment, and the ability to play at such a high level.      

Sitting in the audience one gets full view of not only how the band look, plays and conduct themselves but also how the audience respond to what is offered and this concert was obviously well enjoyed by every person. One of the audience following the march rose to his feet to sincerely thank the band on behalf of the audience for such a splendid afternoon and for giving much enjoyment to all.

Waratah Brass players, this concert was superb. Conductor Rowan Taylor job well done, good conducting and great music selection – Thank you!

Review: ‘Brass with Class’  8 July 2012