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Trumpet Concertos

Concerto for Trumpet in B-flat (1955) [13:07]
Eric EWAZEN (b.1954)
Concerto for Trumpet and Strings (1990) [18:00]
Anthony PLOG (b.1947)
Concerto No.2 for Trumpet and Orchestra (1995) [27:59]
John Holt (trumpet)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor
rec. 24-28 November 2005, concert studio no.1 of Slovak Radio. DDD

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John Holt is principal trumpet with the Dallas Opera Orchestra, and has appeared as a soloist with orchestras throughout the U.S. and Europe. This recording makes it immediately apparent why: he has a nicely rounded but colourful tone, capable of chiming over an entire orchestra, but with a wide range both dynamically and expressively. I had a listen to Håkan Hardenberger’s flamboyant new DG concerto disc ‘Jet Stream’ recently, and while the repertoire is of course an entirely different kettle of fish, I sense a kinship in both players’ approach to music-making, with technique at the service of the composer, and personal choices being central to creating a satisfying experience for player and audience alike.
The music on this CD is entirely approachable and highly entertaining – none of this squeaky-gate avant-garde nonsense which will make the Major’s moustache twitch or the vicar’s wife splutter into her tea. As a composer and musician I am undaunted either by work which seeks to push the boundaries, with all of the risks this can involve, or by conventional composition which can be both stimulating and recognisable as the individual voice of a sensitive artist. The Russian composer Alexandra Pakhmutova’s Concerto for Trumpet in B-flat is, even for a work from 1955, fairly unusual in announcing a key signature. The music wears its heart on its sleeve from the outset, but has an underlying strength which neatly and elegantly sidesteps any kind of sugary sentimentality. It has four contrasting sections, balancing slow and fast in a continuous flow of lush, romantic harmonies and melodic inventiveness which pay homage to both Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.
Eric Ewazen is a recognised brass specialist and a faculty member at Juilliard School. His Concerto for Trumpet and Strings is an adaptation from a version with string quintet. The string orchestra allows for the addition of a double-bass part and some other tweaking, but more importantly the composer mentions his family’s Eastern European origins, and so those teasing dance rhythms and almost Bartók-like gestures and shapes become clear. In four movements, there is room for energetic counterpoint in the galloping Scherzo second, and the moving third ‘Elegy’ movement is in memory of the composer’s mother, who passed away a year before the movement was written. The rhythmic finale begins in 7/8 and recalls the upbeat nature of the Scherzo. Like a positivity pill, it hits the spot and does one good.
Anthony Plog has had a distinguished career as an all-round musician, training as a trumpet player and coming to composition later in life. His Concerto No.2 for Trumpet and Orchestra is the longest and most ambitious piece on this disc by quite a margin, and receives its premiere recording here. It is divided into four movements, which in turn are split into two parts. Thematically distinct, an ascending minor seventh chord defines the basic material for the entire concerto. The second movement introduces the Lutheran chorale ‘All Men Must Die’ which was also employed by Hindemith in his trumpet Sonata. Here it is mixed with a child-like original theme creating “a life and death allegory that is at the concerto’s core.” Part II begins with a Shostakovich-like Scherzo with the soloist using a diversity of mutes for contrast of timbre over pizzicato strings and tuned and un-tuned percussion. Opening with an extended cor anglais solo, the fourth movement ultimately brings the piece full circle with an affirmative restatement of the opening themes, but of course has its own sparkling array of potent effects. The composer’s aim was to “create a concerto for trumpet that has the scope and depth of major violin and piano concertos.” I have to conclude that he has succeeded, certainly in the impressive scale and inventiveness of the piece.          
The orchestral playing is generally good, even if the strings sometimes have a little difficulty with some of the more, and even some of the less, virtuoso passagework. Never mind, it is the overall impression that counts most, and I found this to be an enjoyable disc with some surprising and high class music and music-making. This is very much John Holt’s album, and his impressive playing carries the listener through in as safe a pair of hands (or lips) as I can imagine.
Dominy Clements 

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