Wednesday 6 January 2016

The Wallace Collection brings absolutely magnificent performances of Music for Brass by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies just released by Nimbus

Led by John Wallace, renowned international trumpet soloist, leading arts educationalist, composer, conductor and former principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, The Wallace Collection continues to be one of the premier brass ensembles in the world.

Their catalogue of recordings is wide ranging from early music to contemporary. It is their recordings of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ Music for Brass that features on a new release from Nimbus  with John Wallace and John Miller (trumpets), Paul Gardham (horn), Simon Gunton (trombone) and Robin Haggart (tuba).

NI 5936

Brass has always held an important place in the music of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, indeed his Opus 1, written in 1955, was a Sonata for Trumpet and Piano.

Nimbus has put together recordings from 1999 and 2001 to bring us a very fine collection of this composer’s music for brass. The two main influences that are obvious on this disc are Tudor polyphony and Orkney.

His March: The Pole Star (1982) for brass quintet is named after the Northern Lighthouse Board ship stationed at Stromness in Orkney. The music rises from a quiet, steady march to some fine moments that bring some particularly distinctive passages so typical of Max, through a swirl of staccato phrases before falling, only to rise for the triumphant coda.

Litany for a Ruined Chapel between Sheep and Shore (1999) for trumpet solo was written shortly after the composer’s move to the Orkney island of Sanday, close to shore and the mediaeval ruin of the title. A series of long held notes opens the Adagio recitando before a dissonant theme is developed. The music moves through some virtuosic passages as it darts around, with John Wallace bringing some remarkably fine and fluent playing. There are some terrific little details as the music rapidly shifts around as well as some longer held phrases before rising, only to end gently and quietly.

Lento opens quietly with a lovely, melancholy theme that is gently weaved around with occasional little staccato phrases. The music conjures a real feeling of lonely desolation before the music slowly finds its way to the coda leading straight into the final movement.

The soloist launches straight into the Presto vigoroso with a swirl of rapid phrases. Wallace is absolutely terrific bringing a fine phrasing and fluency as well as a great sense of overall structure. The music slows to broader passages before a long held, fading note signals the coda.

Sea Eagle (1982) for horn solo was written whilst the composer was living on the island of Hoy in Orkney where, looking out over the Pentland Firth, eagles could be seen in flight. Again in three movements the Adagio brings a lovely sonority as an evocative theme flows forward, shot through with lovely little shorter phrases that eventually lead to a more florid moment. There are some lovely natural harmonics with a lovely effect of spaciousness and open skies created. There are sudden swirls and more raucous phrases before the simple coda that just ends quietly.  

The Lento brings a fine broad theme, gently flowing with a great feeling of freedom as the music soars around before a quiet coda. Sudden rapid swirls in the Presto molto lead to more intricate phrases spectacularly played by Paul Gardham bringing such a fine array of textures and timbres.

Tallis: Four Voluntaries (1982) arranged for brass quintet takes four keyboard works by the great 16th century English composer contained in the Mulliner Book held at the British Museum.

With Veni redemptor gentium I, the trombone of Simon Gunton opens with a short section of the plainchant to which a trumpet, then the whole ensemble, join bringing a quite beautiful sonority, taken at a solemn pace bringing a timeless atmosphere, quite beautiful, before a lovely coda.

The trombone again brings a plainchant opening to Ex more docti mistico soon joined by the rest of the quintet in this very fine arrangement with some quite stunning harmonies, beautifully done and again with a fine rich coda.  

The trombone announces the theme for Ecce tempus with the other players soon bringing a fine overlay of textures to this glorious piece that rises through some very fine passages before a gentle conclusion.

It is again the trombone that brings a plainchant opening to Veni redemptor gentium II before layers are added by the other instrumentalists in in this more meditative piece that nevertheless rises for a fine coda.

Max’s interest in early music has given us a little gem here.

The English artist Laurence Stephen ‘L. S.’ Lowry (1887-1976) lived and worked in Pendlebury, Lancashire for more than 40 years, depicting nearby Salford and its surrounding areas. The Lowry Arts and Entertainment Centre in Salford was opened on 28th April 2000. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was born and grew up in Salford and wrote his Fanfare for Lowry (2000) for two solo trumpets for The Lowry. It was commissioned by the International Trumpet Guild and premiered on 24 May 2001at the International Trumpet Guild Conference, Evansville, Indiana, USA by John Wallace and Edward Carroll. It rises in a lovely theme with some distinctive harmonies before moving through some very fine passages that make this so much more than just a fanfare. There are some quieter passages with some lovely textures and harmonies with John Wallace and John Miller giving a terrific performance.

Max’s Brass Quintet (1981) was written for the Empire Brass Quintet. The horn opens the Adagio. Allegro before other members of The Wallace Collection add little points of colour and light, developing a lovely tapestry of sound that shimmers with light. This composer manages to conjure a terrific atmosphere with a subtle ebb and flow before it rises to a brief peak. The music soon grows quieter only to lead into the allegro where the individual instrumental points of sound move ahead quickly and dynamically yet finding unity with the adagio. The music moves through some passages of pinpoint delicacy, brilliantly played here, often quickly and quietly weaving textures with shorter notes before a quiet coda.

The Adagio flessibile brings a long held note from the tuba of Robin Haggart, overlaid with shorter phrases from the two trumpets. Max develops some fine textures and sonorities as the music slowly rises. He has such a fine ear for brass sonorities and harmonies. As the music rises it seems to blossom as light appears with short repeated phrases bringing an anticipatory feel around which a fine blend of brass harmonies are woven. Later the music rises up dramatically with some shining brass phrases, these players bringing some terrific clarity. There is a sustained quieter section where some spectacularly unusual brass sounds are developed, always maintaining a forward pulse.  There is a myriad of flourishes, outbursts and staccato phrases before the music slowly rises to a climax before moving through some tremendous brass textures and harmonies to the coda.

Bursts of staccato phrases suddenly appear for the Allegro vivace, rising through brilliant passages before quietening with hushed little motifs that falter to a halt. A long held trumpet note sounds the continuation as each instrument pulses out phrases that weave around each other. This is a particularly brilliant and entrancing movement full of colour, textures and light .The music moves through passages of rapid, overlaid phrases quite brilliantly played before eventually finding a gentler flow. Eventually it rises in swirls of sound before arriving at the sudden coda.

This is a tremendous piece given a very fine performance.

The Wallace Collection brings absolutely magnificent performances of these endlessly fascinating and enjoyable works. They are well recorded and there are excellent booklet notes by Paul Griffiths.

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