Review of the Royal Marines Wind and Brass Ensemble Concert of 1 February

It was icy cold and dark.  A night at the museum could have been scary.  But the Royal Marines Wind and Brass Ensemble Spring Concert Number 2 was a joyful experience.  The beautiful concert room at the RM Museum, Southsea was the perfect setting for classy, tasteful music performed by the two wind bands.

First up was the 13 Winds Ensemble playing a piece called Pantomime.   Originally written for the Unicorn Children’s Theatre in 1945, it’s tricky.  It has a bustling prologue, a song by lonely Aladdin before he gets lamped by his evil uncle Abenazar, a hypnotic polka, a calypso (How did that get into an Oriental story?), a love duet, a grand march and a closing waltz.  The players carried it off perfectly.

Bizet’s Carmen Suite is no pushover either.  But the band of ten brass instrument players and one percussionist handled it with admirable flair.  With the complete range of piccolo trumpet at the top end, through e flat and b flat trumpets, a mellow flugelhorn, four trombones, a French horn and right down to the firm foundation of a tuba at the bottom end, the group had it covered.  The percussionist was the icing on the cake especially with some authentically Spanish tambourine work in the Carmen.  Under the batons of Captains Woffenenden and Green, the first half of the evening was a smashing performance.

The second half was a real treat too. Mozart’s Serenade in B flat major is also known as the Gran Partita. Before Mozart got his hands on them, ensembles of wind players just did wallpaper music for dinner parties. But Wolfgang Amadeus had other ideas. There’s a largo to start, a minuet, an adagio, another minuet, a romance, a theme and variations and a rondo (you’ve guessed it) to round the whole thing off.

Two oboes, four clarinets, two bassoons, four French horns and a double bass made up the ensemble.  Mozart knew how to put a band together to make it shine alright.  The conductors changed places to allow Band Sergeants Jamie Gunn, Dan Page and Andy Hall to show off their baton waving skills.  Under their direction, the Royal Marines musicians carried the whole terrific work off with smoothness and panache.

All the players got their share of harmonious duets and moments of solo glory.  Special mention must be made of Corporal Angela Duggan on oboe and clarinettist Musician Rachel Wright, sporting three good conduct badges on her sleeve.  They conquered the top end of the register with beautiful clarity of tone in the slow bits and nifty finger work in the presto passages.  At the other end of the scale, Musician Joe Robbins, barely a year out to the RM School of Music, showed no fear as he nimbly performed the challenging double bass passages which Mozart must have included to trip lesser bassists up.

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