Authentic tootling with the Prince Regent’s Band

Third year BA Music student David Child reports on a recent visit to Southampton by the Prince Regent’s Band:

As a brass student, it was an absolute delight to listen to and meet the players of the highly reputable Prince Regent’s Band, who specialise in historic wind and brass chamber music in the period from the French revolution (1789) to the end of the First World War (1918).  Performing in the University of Southampton’s Monday Lunchtime Concert Series in Turner Sims, the band played a variety of repertoire from this period, including works by Victor Elwald, Oskar Böhme and Alexander Glazunov.  These composers were all figures of the 1917 Russian Revolution, whose works were significant in the evolution of late nineteenth-century Russian chamber brass instruments, many of which the players used in the concert to provide an authentic, historically-informed performance.After the concert, the players were kind enough to give keen audience-members a talk on their respective contemporary instruments and how they differ from the modern brass instruments to which we are accustomed today.  For me, it was particularly striking how the cornet à piston players had to add crooks (extra loops of tubing) to transpose their instrument from C to B flat, which naturally made tuning and intonation while on-stage all the more difficult, especially when considering that, with less reliance upon triggers, older brass instruments are trickier to get in-tune in the first place.  The players rectified this by learning alternate fingerings for all of their pieces, in the hope to produce better tuning: this meant that their historically-informed practice requires them to learn an entire new set of unfamiliar fingerings on an instrument that is already old and difficult to play.  Combined with the fact that one of the cornet à pistons had to be flooded with water every ten minutes of playing simply to retain the sound-quality (which explains why one of the players briefly left the stage mid-concert), we only just started to realise the sheer undertaking required to produce the level of authenticity to which these musicians aspire, one which they perfected flawlessly on-stage.

It was also particularly interesting to hear about the saxhorn, or tenorbass trombone, which was clearly a precursor to the modern-day euphonium.  However, the subtle differences between the two instruments is striking: such was the shape of the saxhorn bell that the sound-particles were dispersed far more broadly, producing a warm, yet still dynamically-versatile sound, that blended into the rest of the ensemble magnificently in the concert.  We were amused by the addition of historically-inaccurate elastic bands, which slightly broke the Russian revolutionary-era illusion, but enhanced the instrument’s tuning abilities.  We were even allowed to try a few of these remarkable, authentic instruments for ourselves, so we could see first-hand the differences and challenges that their authenticity poses, and why they are so integral in capturing the style of revolutionary Russian brass chamber music in which Prince Regent’s Band specialises in bringing to life.

Many thanks to Anneke Scott, Phil Dale, Richard Fominson, Richard Thomas and Jeff Miller for their time, the fantastic concert and such an interesting afternoon!