Britannia rules the (air) waves
FrKurt Messick | Bloomington, IN USA | 05/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This CD features seven particular composers who have written pieces of music that are quintessentially British: Jeremiah Clarke, George Frideric Handel, John Stanley, John Eccles, Henry Purcell, William Corbett, and Thomas Arne. The pieces here are triumphant, celebrating that particular period of Empire when the British ruled vastly such that the sun never set upon it - one of the key elements of such triumphant music-making, particularly for the time, was the use of brass and trumpet. This CD focusses upon pieces that have a heavy brass element, featuring the trumpet performance of John Wallace.
John Wallace was principal trumpet of the Philharmonia Orchestra since the 1970s; he founded the brass ensemble, the Wallace Collection, ten years later in 1986. In 2002, he became principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Scotland, and the Wallace Collection gave their last performance shortly thereafter. However, the Wallace Collection lives on in performances on CD such as this one, performed with William Boughton and the English String Orchestra, with Edmund Barham and the Leeds Festival Chorus accompanying.
Pieces here are very familiar to anyone with an interested in British national composition -- pieces such as the Water Music by Handel are very famous; other pieces, such as Clarke's 'Trumpet Aire' and Arne's 'Rule Britannia', are similarly famous even if their composers did not achieve the 'brand recognition' that Handel did. All of the composers here came from the period spanning the late 1600s to the late 1700s, when music was as often written for music halls and public performances as it was for royal events and commissions.
The performances here are uniformly upbeat and well played, with little by way of blemish save the occasional drop and surge in levels (as often becomes the case when recording music with sharp brass elements).
The CD insert includes a brief and engaging essay by John Humphries, who discusses the music and the national mood of the time, as well as bits of trivia for the reader (writing of the Water Piece by Handel here, he writes, 'This was produced in 1733 by Daniel Wright, who, according to Hawkins, "never published anything that he did not steal", so it is possible that Handel did not, in fact, authorise the work's publication.')
One can envision theatres full of people waving Union Jacks while this plays, and many of the pieces have a quality about them that speaks directly to the time and place of Britain."