Tag Archives: John Wallace

Glasgow Cathedral Festival

Artistic Director Andrew Forbes and his small team achieve a minor miracle each year with their long weekend of diverse and often bold and experimental music in the superb environment of Glasgow Cathedral. Saturday evening’s programme was a good indicator of that range, and the unique atmosphere the building provides.

Cellist William Conway’s Hebrides Ensemble brought a programme that was diverse in itself, beginning with a quartet by Mozart and ending with a work for the same forces by Krzysztof Penderecki – the Polish composer to whose memory Sir James MacMillan has dedicated his new violin concerto.

Although Conway himself played in all but one of the five works, much of the focus in the recital was on Yann Ghiro and Scott Dickinson, principal clarinet and principal viola in the BBC SSO, with violinist David Alberman the other member of this edition of the versatile group.

Mozart’s Adagio for Basset Horn and String Trio might only have become such in the hands of German musicologist Ernst Lewicki, but its melodic material is familiar from the composer’s repurposing of it and the lead instrument is one for which he had a demonstrable enthusiasm.

Penderecki’s Quartet exploits the similar tonal range of the clarinet and viola in its opening and closing movements as the cello and violin add single note “drones” to the sound. The clarinet is also to the fore in the sprightly and slightly bluesy Scherzo; only in the third movement Serenade is there a more democratic share of the lead line.

The other curiosity by a big name was Leonard Bernstein’s Variations on an Octatonic scale, five bite-sized miniatures that fuelled his Concerto for Orchestra. They were performed here by Conway and Ghiro, and the fourth, with its staccato clarinet and pizzicato cello was a particular delight.

The programme was completed by two newer works from composers living or working in Scotland, David Fennessy and Helen Grime. Almost the definition of minimalism and restraint, with much use of harmonics, Fennessy’s Changeless And The Changed is a duo for violin and cello that takes a single musical idea, botanical in inspiration, and explores it thoroughly. To See The Summer Sky, by Grime, pairs violin and viola with the lower instrument often taking the lead, especially in the faster sections of the score.

If the Hebrides’ package presented an opportunity to hear music that rarely has an outing, the event that followed was a one-off delight. De Profundis: A Tribute to Scottish Miners began life at the East Neuk Festival five years ago, performed in smoky half-light in The Bowhouse, the former agricultural building that has become the festival’s main large venue.

This revisiting of the work by John Wallace, his professional brass-playing colleagues in The Wallace Collection, and Tony George, the tuba-playing director of the Tullis Russell Band who is now working with The Cooperation Band, also involved Renfrew Burgh Band. The massed brass also included, unbilled, a few players from Fife who simply wanted to be involved again and were prepared to travel to do so.

If the pit-invoking haze was less dense this time, the lighting and use of the building was twice as spectacular. The score Wallace has created, mining material from settings of Psalm 130, Out Of The Deep, ranges from classic brass band sound to choral polyphony, constantly in flux and with the glorious punctuation of a virtuosic trumpet solo from on high and a robust percussion interlude. From the quire of the cathedral, Brenda Craig recited the four poems that are part of the piece, one of them miner/writer Joe Corrie’s The Image o’ God.

Word had clearly got out that this was a spectacular not to be missed and the Cathedral Festival team were rewarded by a very good attendance for an occasion that will live long in the memory.

Keith Bruce

Picture of Hebrides Ensemble by David Lee

The Wallace Collection

  • The Wallace Collection ON SONG
  • Origins of the Species Revisited
  • The Golden Age of the 19th Century Brass Virtuoso Vol 1


Since retiring from his adventurous tenure as principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, trumpeter John Wallace has found time and energy to reignite his eponymous brass ensemble, The Wallace Collection. And with it now comes not one, but three simultaneous new releases on the group’s own recording label, one recorded as far back as 1999. There are still more to come, says Wallace, who remains as indefatigable and evangelical as ever.

Of the three, one in particular stands out. Titled The Wallace Collection ON SONG, it takes traditional brass ensemble repertoire out of its homogenous comfort zone to include two singers (the operatic soprano Julia Daramy-Williams and Gaelic singer/songwriter Ainsley Hamill) and a juicy assortment of commissioned works, anchored effectively by the substantial centrally-positioned Symphony for Brass by Malcom Arnold. 

All in all, it’s an album whose stylistic variety is packaged within the cohesive strength of its agile, polished performances. (If only the typos – “Pollockshields”? “Orechestra”? – had been sorted out in the sleeve notes!)

The youngest of the composers is Francisco Coll, a Valencian in his mid-thirties, whose Quintet for Brass, composed last year, is infinitely more exhilarating than its workaday title. The opening Prologue, which snakes around in an unrelenting mood of exploration; the dark subterranean landscape that opens the Chorale; the chattering Fanfares, the lyrically-sinuous Canzona and final surge of adrenalin that is the closing Sequence; all are equally integral and distinctive in creating a genuinely arresting work.

Songs of the North is the first of the vocal works, written for Wallace’s 65th birthday in 2014 by one of Scotland’s truly unsung creative heroes, 72-year-old Edward McGuire. Foremost in these musical travelogues – McGuire’s own reminiscences of visits to Greenland and Iceland combined with metaphorical references to Wallace’s own imminent “new musical voyage” at the time – is a crystalline simplicity and self-generating energy expressed through economically transparent brass writing, a neoclassical swing that drives it along, and a seamless lyricism captured with engaging descriptiveness by Daramy-Williams.

Beyond the idiomatic wholesomeness and charismatic rhythms of Arnold’s 1978 Symphony for Brass, the focus falls on Wallace’s own compositions. The first, An t-Eilean is a moody Gaelic ballad in which Hammill’s soothing mezzo-soprano is accompanied by trumpet and piano, the latter’s ubiquitous presence marked by jazz-like infusions that amplify the vocalist’s sultry melancholy. 

The other, The Flannan Isle, is an impetuous curiosity literally jigsawed together by recording engineer Daniel de Gruchy-Lambert, who also plays organ and all three trumpet parts. Wallace’s setting of Wilfred Wilson Gibson’s poem unfolds with frenetic impatience, vocally virtuosic, emotionally raw, and with a filmic instrumental underscore that never lets up.

The other two Wallace Collection releases are of more immediate likely interest to the brass connoisseur. Origin of the Species Revisited focuses on four of the twelve quintets written by Frenchman Jean François Bellon (1795-1869), currently the earliest known composer to have written for such a combo. Played on period instruments, including the rounded nobility of the ophicleide, there are peculiar tuning issues which, depending on your preference, will be either endearingly quaint or ultimately nauseating.
The ophicleide is present again in The Golden Age of the 19th Century Brass Virtuoso, Vol 1, which features Wallace on cornet and Anthony George on ophicleide, both playing 19th century period instruments, with Arron Shorr and Simon Wright sharing the honours on a lightweight 1844 Broadwood grand piano. Musically, the gamut is huge, from John Braham’s lugubrious The Death of Nelson to a charmingly ironic transcription of Handel’s “O Ruddier than the Cherry” (from Acis and Galatea) with ophicleide replacing the original obligato recorder. For David, read Goliath.
Ken Walton