Eric Ewazen, a graduate of Juilliard who joined the faculty there upon his graduation in 1980, has written for a variety of ensembles, but has made something of a specialty of writing for brass. This CD makes a persuasive case for his talent as a composer of brass music. While the music is unashamedly old fashioned, and the legacies of Howard Hanson and Vincent Persichetti are never far away, Ewazen is proof it is possible to breathe life into older idioms. The works on this CD may be stronger in their compositional inventiveness than in their inspiration, but they are consistently attractive, far better than just well-crafted. He is particularly strong as a melodist; his tunes stay in the ear. His works are welcome contributions to the repertoire of brass music.
The works receive energetic performances from members of the American Brass Quintet, assisted by other performers, including the composer on piano. Ewazen is equally skilled at writing pulse-quickening massed ensembles and intimate sonatas for solo instrument and piano, in which he shows a real flair for delicacy and lightness, attributes not usually associated with brass music. The bracing Fantasia for Seven Trumpets is a sonic tour de force with fanfares that blossom like fireworks. The Ballade, Pastorale and Dance for flute, french horn and piano uses the simplest melodic and harmonic elements, but Ewazen's skillful manipulation of the materials makes their simplicity engaging and intriguing. The exuberant finale recalls the ending of Brahms' Horn Trio in its visceral impact.