WORKS: Petite Suite; Tiera
PERFORMER: The Wallace Collection
CATALOGUE NO: DXL 1042
No matter that Victor Ewald remains unmentioned in New Grove; brass players love him. He is core repertoire for thousands of quintets worldwide, and a rare source of brass chamber music from the 19th century. His gently Slav-inflected melodies are supported by harmonic adroitness and structural procedures that are warmly familiar without lapsing into cliché. All this sits perfectly on early brass instruments which, as they took their first unsteady steps, needed repertoire that was comfortable and idiomatically written.
John Wallace uses a collection of instruments from the late 19th century that reveals their authenticity in a number of ways, including a reassuring clankiness. The rather veiled tone of the lower instruments and the absence of the huge dynamic range, so prized today, are also apparent. When the music is slow enough, and vagaries of intonation addressed, the sonority is pure and warm, but in the faster chromatic passages the pitch is less focused than on modern instruments. The Sibelius pieces are oddities that show his unease when writing miniatures. Listening to this degree of technical fluency on unforgiving instruments it is easy to forget what patience and concentration is needed to approach the standard demanded by modern ears, and what an unusual and remarkable achievement it is. Christopher Mowat