The five-piece brass group Passion des Cuivres was founded in 2003 and Orfeo's Victorian Christmas for Brass appears to be its maiden voyage on disc. The group favors the conical bore brass instruments common to the nineteenth century and at least in the CD photo also wear the top hats and bonnets of the era. The group is joined by an ophicliede played by Erhard Schwartz, who indeed demonstrates that he knows how to handle that thing, once referred to as a "chromatic bullock" by George Bernard Shaw. The personnel of Victorian Christmas for Brass is rounded out by soprano Constanze Backes, who gets equal billing with Passion des Cuivres on the back cover of Victorian Christmas for Brass. You'll find it harder to locate her in the actual recording, as she only appears on a couple of tracks.
Made up from players from Germany and the U.K., Passion des Cuivres maintains a nice, well-rounded tone as a group and stays in excellent tune throughout; it never rises up much of a pitch of excitement, but in this sort of recital that's not necessarily a plus -- it's a very even-tempered recital. The recording, made at the Wallfahrtskirche Mariaë Himmelfahrt in Forstern-Tading, is a bit more reverberant than it needs to be. This is not so bad when it's just the brass, but when Backes joins them on "He Shall Feed His Flock" it leads to a multitude of problems; she is both buried in the ensemble and in passages where she hits a certain high pitch, the note is projected out into the church in a very unattractive way. Backes fares better in the Purcell "Evening Hymn," although still a little buried, at least you can consistently hear her and her voice doesn't grab onto the architecture.
Aside from the minor audio production gaffes and the subdued spirit of the performance, Victorian Christmas for Brass does accomplish what it sets out to do. In nineteenth century England, as in America and Germany, it would have been just as common for a small group of brass players to come up to your window during the holiday season as would a group of carolers. Victorian Christmas for Brass is an evocation of that tradition; if it is not altogether lost in the twenty-first century, then it has moved into the shopping malls. In that sense, it might be better experienced in your CD player with these expert musicians than out in the field.