The Wallace Collection - Hammered Brass -

Artistic Quality 9 / Sound Quality 10

This collection of 20th century brass compositions explores the very edges of the genre while showing off the considerable prowess (and the amazingly enduring chops) of the Wallace Collection. Petr Eben's Quintet is a set of variations on a 15th-century chorale that proceeds from the early styling of the original to variations of increasing modernity and invention, culminating with a spirited final dance. This thought-provoking work in no way prepares you for the shock of hearing Luciano Berio's Call, which blazes forth with the startling urgency of a nuclear reactor meltdown alarm. It's remarkable how much energy he packs into the work's brief two-and-a-half minutes.

The disc's title piece, Robert Crawford's Hammered Brass, purportedly explores seven types of tempered metal, from pewter to gold and everything in between. Crawford manages to create some original and highly varied textures, colors, and moods, but visualizing any actual metals would take quite a leap of the imagination - it's a cute idea, but the music is best enjoyed for its own sake. As would be expected of Xenakis, his Khal Perr pushes the players (and their instruments) to their extremes with some blisteringly angry, occasionally frightening sounds - especially those rudely blaring trumpets in the opening.

Lastly, Steve Martland may have been aiming for a minimalist-hypnotic effect in his Full Fathom Five, but he's undermined by the impracticality of this kind of music performed on brass instruments. Hearing the trumpet's valiant but ultimately futile efforts to maintain full tone throughout Martland's rapid and inanely insistent repetitions makes you wince (or your lips hurt, if you're a trumpeter). The Martland work notwithstanding, this remains a self-recommending collection for brass enthusiasts and an important acquisition for collectors of 20th century music. Linn's solid, vibrant, vivid sound will give audiophiles something to cheer about as well.
03 June 2002