Review: Grimethorpe Colliery Band; St Mary’s Church; Bury St Edmunds Festival; Saturday May 19 2012

If a pub quiz question asked people to name a famous brass band, there are probably only two likely answers, and I’d put money on Grimethorpe Colliery Band coming out on top.

Being the subject of the popular 1996 film Brassed Off, as well as featuring in Proms concerts and on pop records in earlier decades, has made this band something of a household name, and it was with this in mind that I went to Saturday’s brass band concert (something which wouldn’t normally have been high on my list of musical choices).

The sight of some five hundred people packed into St Mary’s Church showed me that the band was extremely popular – and the first minute of the concert told me that we were in for some world-class performing.

An eclectic programme covered far more than the staple marches and overtures, and one highlight for me was the gentle Elegy from A Downland Suite by John Ireland, in which the beautiful melodic line and rich warm accompaniment were rendered with perfect balance and tone. Arrangements of classical favourites such as the Finale from Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto (arranged for Tenor Horn) and Bach’s Toccata in D minor did not really appeal to the musical purist in me, but the virtuosity of the performances was enthralling.

The two dozen or so superb brass players and three glittering percussionists played with vitality and freshness throughout, in many different styles, and on the (appropriately few) occasions when the full power of the band was unleashed, such as at the end of the Pines of the Appian Way by Respighi, the mighty sound was dramatic and impressive. Rounded off by an inevitable encore - the William Tell Gallop by Rossini, played at breakneck speed – this was a magnificent concert which will have more than satisfied the band’s existing fans – and undoubtedly earned them some more.

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Wynn Rees

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