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Trumpet masterpieces
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963) Sonata for trumpet and piano [16.48]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959) Sonatine for trumpet and piano [7.16]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Kaddisch [4.14]
George ENESCU (1881-1955) Légende [6.14]
Thorvald HANSEN (1847-1915) Sonata for trumpet and piano [9.48]
Karl PILSS (1902-1979) Sonata for trumpet and piano [15.52]
James Watson (trumpet)
Simon Wright (piano)
Rec. Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London, 2005. DDD.
DEUX-ELLES DXL 1109 [60.10]

I am not usually partial to trumpet music in large doses; however in this case the choice of repertoire attracted me. In his booklet note Watson, Head of Brass at the Royal Academy of Music, tells of his belief in the trumpet’s ability to carry a melodic line and stir passions. I am used to stirring orchestral brass holding a tune, so a reduction in scale struck me as not that hard to get to grips with, providing the execution proved to be more than just technical excellence and academic correctness.

The Hindemith sonata is at once upbeat and somewhat dry, typical of the composer’s style. Both instruments have nice presence and a sense of interplay is maintained, with Watson reducing his line down to a pianissimo without overt thinning of the tone. The final movement ‘trauermusik’ brings out the best of these qualities. The finely judged performance prevents the music from becoming overly bleak, yet maintains a sense of tension throughout despite the finely wrought trumpet line. Indeed, as with Enescu’s writing (see later) one is impressed by the piano part; other composers might have been tempted to let the trumpet have all the glory.

By way of contrast, Martinů’s sonatine proves a lively jazzy piece, which lightens the mood, with - yet again - a sizeable load carried by the piano. Against this, Watson’s finely strung and subtly inflected solo line is thrown. And then Ravel - on the trumpet? Well, I wouldn’t have thought it a natural marriage, but Watson proves somewhat persuasive. The performance sees the mood darken slightly with the work being inward looking. He writes of using it as a prelude to the Enescu; in my view not necessary, but certainly passable in this capacity. Ravel though is more than capable of being his own person.

If the Ravel is inward then the Enescu is a glance towards the eternal, encapsulated in barely six minutes. Légende has several previous recordings, and both those on EMI by John Wallace (the one to hunt down if you can) and Hakan Hardenberger, capture key aspects of the work. If Watson does not match either it is not for want of trying. Wallace proves more ‘timeless’ in his view, Hardenberger has a shade more character in the playing than Watson. Yet his is a decent account, coping well with the flutter-tongue passages and the seamless legato. The piano part is a glory in itself, and more than competently played. However, whatever Enescu’s enigmatic Légende is, I am not totally made to believe in it.

Then two composers I had never heard of before: Hansen and Pilss. I suspect unless you are a brass aficionado this might be the case with you too. To be honest, I found both of mild interest; the playing was pleasing enough and, as far as I could tell, competent. I found the lift in spirits and mood that the Hansen provided some relief from the generally sombre tone that wove throughout the majority of this disc.

For me, despite obviously competent performances this was a pleasing rather than seminal release that might be revisited occasionally; though trumpet lovers may find it of more lasting value.

Evan Dickerson

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