- 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.