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CD: Crotchet

Trumpet and organ
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Fauvette des jardins (1980)** [1:08]
Julien-François ZBINDEN (b. 1917)
Dialogue, Op. 50 (1973)*** [13:08]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Passacaglia, Op.29 (from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) (1932)* [7:17]
Petr EBEN (1929-2007)
Okna (Windows) (1976)***
I. Blue window [4:08]
II. Green window [5:39]
III. Red window [5:39]
IV. Golden window [6:44]
André JOLIVET (1905-1974)
Arioso barocco (1968)*** [9:16]
Thierry ESCAICH (b. 1965)
Evocation II (1996)* [5:40]
Henri TOMASI (1901-1971)
Semaine Sainte à Cuzco (1962)*** [6:08]
Henri SAUGUET (1901-1989)
Non morietur in aeternam *** [5:20]
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)
Paths, Op. 50 (In memoriam Witold Lutoslawski) (1994)* [5:31]
Reinhold Friedrich (trumpet); Iveta Apkalna (organ)
*organ solo; **trumpet solo; ***organ and trumpet
rec. 2007, Essen Philharmonie, Alfried Krupp Saal, Essen, Germany
Experience Classicsonline

I must confess to ulterior motives in requesting this CD for review. First, I thoroughly enjoyed a similar collection from BIS, Prières sans paroles, played by Simon Preston and Håkan Hardenberger (see Christopher Thomas’s review). It’s usually a thrilling combination, especially if the organ is up to scratch. Second, I have my eye on an SACD of Messiaen’s La Nativeté du Seigneur, played on this Essen instrument. That apart, the programme here looks very enterprising indeed – the Tomasi, Jolivet and Sauguet items also appear on the BIS recording – so I popped in the disc and prepared for an aural workout.
The German-born trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich has a number of premieres to his name and has played under Claudio Abbado in Lucerne. Organist Iveta Apkalna, who hails from Latvia, is much in demand across Europe; in 2007 she made her Berlin Philharmonic debut with Berlioz’s mighty Te Deum, also under Abbado’s direction. She is a regular at continental music festivals and, on the basis of this disc at least, I look forward to hearing her in the UK.
Of the works for solo trumpet Messiaen’s Fauvette des jardins may be a wisp of a piece – it was composed on a scrap of paper and presented to Rolf Liebermann, who commissioned Messiaen’s opera St François d’Assise – but the imitation of a garden warbler requires remarkable agility. The composer never specified what instrument it should be played on but Friedrich’s bright, clear trumpet sounds very persuasive. That’s also true of his other solo, Paths, by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. Here the music – played with and without mute – comes across as a series of striking contrasts. No shimmering Orientalism here but a bracing display of bold instrumental colours, not to mention the extraordinary evocation of birdsong at the close.
The organ solos are just as varied and rewarding, ranging from Shostakovich’s own arrangement of the Passacaglia from his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to Thierry Escaich’s pulsating, highly mobile Evocation II. Be warned, though, the blaze of sound at the beginning of the Passacaglia will have you leaping for the volume control. It’s a powerful, surging work and a good demonstration of the Kuhn organ’s heft. I imagine Dieu parmi nous would sound rather grand on this instrument. As for Evocation II it’s both original and irresistible. I was particularly impressed with Apkalna’s control of dynamics and rhythm here. This is a genuine showpiece that would be most welcome at any recital.
The Swiss composer Julien-François Zbinden is new to me. As the work’s title implies there is something of a dialogue between the two protagonists. Friedrich’s trumpet sounds wonderfully transported above the dark-hued harmonies of the organ. The two soloists are also well blended when they play together, the trumpet sounding remarkably like just another stop on the organ. The acoustic of the Alfried Krupp Saal seems fine, with just enough reverberation to add warmth and depth but not enough to obscure detail. Friedrich may not have quite the panache of Hardenberger but he strikes me as every bit as accomplished technically, especially in those difficult upper registers,
The longest work on this disc is Okna (Windows), by the Bohemian-born composer Petr Eben. Inspired by Marc Chagall’s painted windows in the Hadassah Synagogue in Jerusalem, Okna depicts four of the 12 sons of the Patriarch Jacob. The first, ‘Reuben, the blue window’, is rich and resonant, with trumpet filigrees above a rolling bass. There is real vigour to the writing here, matched by Friedrich’s superbly projected playing. The second, ’Isachar, the green window’, opens with a pulsing pedal over which the trumpet gently rises. Even in the more spirited passages there is a sense of repose, of spiritual calm, that is very moving indeed.
The third movement, ‘Zebulon, the blood-red window’, is perhaps more strident, passionate even, with crisp playing from Friedrich, not to mention some thrilling cadences for trumpet and organ. The solemn, hymn-like ‘Levi, the golden window’ is also splendid, the wide soundstage adding to the sense of occasion. Surprisingly it all ends with some jaunty themes that broaden into a glorious climax. An approachable work and one that has certainly piqued my interest in Eben’s music.
The Jolivet, Tomasi and Sauguet pieces are very well played and recorded on Prières sans paroles – the cavernous acoustic of Denmark’s Aarhus cathedral as much a player in these works as the soloists – but even in this august company Friedrich and Apkalna can hold their own. The Arioso barocco blends trumpet and organ in music of Messiaenic awe and splendour. The trumpet weaves around the firmly anchored organ and, as befits a composer who learned to play at Notre-Dame, there are moments of genuine weight and power; sample the great swell of sound that begins at 5:29, for instance. It’s committed playing, but for added presence and a bit more frisson Preston and Hardenberger are hard to beat.
Henri Tomasi’s Peruvian-inspired Semaine Sainte à Cuzco demands some virtuosos playing from the trumpeter, which Friedrich easily provides. Not quite as atmospheric as the Preston/Hardenberger account, but Friedrich’s final note silences all criticism, as does his spirited flourishes at the start of Sauguet’s Non morietur in aeternam. Although the composer was one of Satie’s pupils there is a distinct devotional air to this music, albeit with some quirky harmonies thrown in for good measure.
As much as I admire the Preston/Hardenberger partnership Friedrich and Apkalna run them a very close second. If anything their choice of repertoire is more adventurous and the engineering is pretty good too. What a pity, then, that Phoenix’s presentation and packaging leave so much to be desired. Apart from the mangled English translations and spelling errors the timings on the back of the jewel case are wildly inaccurate. Also, biographical details – so useful in contemporary or unfamiliar works – are in short supply.
Those caveats aside, this a resplendent achievement and should be sought out by all organ and trumpet aficionados.
Dan Morgan


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