Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prom 32: Westron wynde when wyll thow blow: Tredegar Band takes the Proms by storm

9 August 2022


Whatever next? Heavy metal meets brass band at the Albert Hall.

Prom 32

Tredegar Band & Ian Porthouse (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

Tredegar Band’s first ever appearance at the Proms was on Monday evening, when they featured as the concertino group for Gavin Higgins’s Concerto Grosso for Brass Band and Orchestra. Staying over for a couple of nights, though, allowed the band to showcase their more regular repertoire in a late-night Prom that had the audience whooping, stamping and clapping with delight.

Setting out the range of works (most of them arranged for brass band from other scorings) that their playlist encompasses in just over an hour was no mean feat, but thanks to some inspired programming by the band’s director Ian Porthouse, we were given a mouth-watering taste of everything from classical standards such as Berlioz’s overture from Le corsair via an arrangement of Vaughan Williams’s heart-warming prelude on the Welsh hymn tune Rhosymedre, a movement from Philip Wilby’s Euphonium Concerto, some uptempo swing in a Judy Garland tribute, a taste of the Wild West on film courtesy of MBC-7 – Malcolm Bennett’s mash up of Elmer Bernstein’s themes from The Big Country and The Magnificent Seven – to the totally left field inclusion of Paul Saggers’s arrangement of the heavy metal group Slipknot’s The Devil in I.

“…thanks to some inspired programming… we were given a mouth-watering taste of everything…”

Prom 32

Yu-Han Yang, Ian Porthouse & Tredegar Band (Photo: Chris Christodoulou)

All of the material was delivered with the slick excellence that could be expected of the multi-award winning Welsh band formed over 150 years ago, and detractors who carp about the limited variation in texture that an all brass ensemble is capable of would have been surprised by the astounding timbral contrasts achieved. Under Porthouse’s relaxed but precise direction, the band gave us an ever-changing soundworld: rippling effects from the alto and tenor instruments that pushed drive into Richard Strauss’s Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare; some hefty dynamic shifts in the Berlioz; a warm  texture for Rhosymedre whose pace was nonetheless brisk enough to ensure it didn’t wallow. Vaughan Williams’s Variations for Brass Band (one of the only two pieces not in an arrangement) contained a brassy iteration of the composer’s usual mix of imagery (seafaring, pastoral, triumphant), and the busy feeling of music accompanying a 1960s Pathé newsreel about ‘swinging London’ was summoned by fluttering cornets and some clever work with tempo and dynamic in Mario Armengol’s Brassmen’s Holiday. MBC-7 was not just the broad grandiose themes we know and love, but contained some beautifully covered muted sections; the ‘full on show business’ sound for the final section of Andrew Austin’s Judy Garland Tribute contrasted well with Dewi Griffiths’s glorious cornet solo over a slow four ballroom version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow earlier in the arrangement.

The excellence of all the material cannot be overstated, but a few pieces stood out even beyond that. The ‘Dance (Zeibekikos)’ movement from Philip Wilby’s Euphonium Concerto not only provided a chance for the soloist Yu-Han Yang to demonstrate his virtuosic euphonium playing through some passages of ‘wall of death’ rapidity, but also ended in the thrill (the dance being Greek in origin) of plates being smashed by one of the percussionists. And speaking of whom, a shout out must go to the whole percussion section who, due to the instrument layout, spent the concert running from one side of the stage to another without missing a single glockenspiel or tubular bell entry.

The star of the show, though, was the Slipknot piece. Arranging such a headbanger of a number for brass band is a daunting task, likely to attract criticisms of watering down its unrefined animal energy. Not so: the raw power and chaotic muscularity were all there in the sheer volume and punch the band delivered, complete with Corey Taylor’s disturbing rock guitar slides reproduced in the trombones.

• Full details of the BBC Proms season 2022 can be found here.


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Prom 32: Westron wynde when wyll thow blow: Tredegar Band takes the Proms by storm