Brass Quintets Nos.1-3, Opp.5, 6 & 7
The Wallace Collection
[John Wallace & John Miller (cornets), Paul Gardham (althorn), Simon Gunton (baritone saxhorn), Robin Haggart (tuba)]
Reviewed by: Peter Grahame Woolf
Reviewed: May 2002
CD No: DEUX-ELLES DXL 1042
The historical early-instrument movement has advanced slowly to explore the nineteenth-century orchestra, but the brass world has been tardy to re-value their pioneering chamber-music repertoire from that point of view. The Baltic countries were at the vanguard of developing newer brass instruments and music for them. This revelatory CD, with an evocative picture of The Russian Horn Band, offers some of the first important pieces for brass ensemble, sounding as they did and should. Brass ensembles were ubiquitous in Finland and the young Sibelius wrote six works for brass septet. The most characteristic of them is Tiera, with additional percussion, a rousing piece from the same time as Finlandia.
But it is Victor Ewald (1860-1935) who makes this CD well worth purchasing. He established the brass quintet as a standard genre with the three original examples collected here, and a fourth transcribed from a string quartet. Often included in modern brass ensemble recitals, I had previously thought them dull. Heard on the fundamentally different, narrow-bored period cornets, althorn, saxhorn etc (all the Wallace Collection’s early instruments are described in detail for cognoscenti) they come up fresh and lucid. Their founder, John Wallace, plays B flat and E flat soprano cornets of the 1860s and the performances display subtle virtuosity, with exceptional flexibility, in this very Russian, tuneful and endearing music, which is recommended for a pleasant surprise.