Romantic Trumpet Sonatas
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Holberg Suite, Op 40 (1884) (arr. Daniel-Ben Pienaar) [17:14]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Sonata No 1 in A minor, Op 105 (1851)* [15:52]
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847) Sonata No 2 in D, Op 58 (1843)* [22:34]
Karl PILSS (1902-1979) Sonata (1935) [14:16]
*Arranged by the performers
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood (trumpet); Daniel-Ben Pienaar (piano)
rec. 29-31 March 2010, St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, England

This disc is called Romantic Trumpet Sonatas. I hear you asking: “There are romantic trumpet sonatas?” The answer is, “Now there are!” Trumpeter Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar have transcribed Schumann’s first violin sonata and Mendelssohn’s second cello sonata for the trumpet, and Pienaar has added his own version of Grieg’s Holberg Suite. To this they have appended one of the tiny handful of ‘real’ Romantic Trumpet Sonatas, a very late (1935) work by Karl Pilss.

I was a bit skeptical about this, but it has turned out to be a lot of fun, for the trumpet arrangements are not as glitzy or unsubtle as one might fear. Freeman-Attwood and Pienaar are sensitive musicians and transcribers, and the disc brushes aside memories of the ‘originals’ in favor of appreciation for their new guises.

Examples abound in Grieg’s Holberg Suite: the very beginning is a series of flashy, carnival-like repeated notes for the trumpet, but the instrument changes tone almost immediately, so that the music remains a collaboration of equal partners. If anything, Freeman-Attwood’s biggest moments come in the witty gavotte. Throughout, I was impressed by how naturally the transcription worked, and how the music had a natural give-and-take between the performers. The trumpet takes a few moments off in the air and the rigaudon’s central slow section, but that’s good for our ears and the music’s character, too.

The Schumann is better yet. The first movement’s drama is very well-captured by these two artists, and the finale’s high spirits are very high indeed. I think it’s best to separate the original composition from the transcription, and judge the new work’s merits independently, because it deserves that kind of consideration. This is a very fine piece indeed, with a superb emotional arc and trumpet writing which combines tongue-twisting difficulties with endearing melody.

Mendelssohn’s sonata has a bit more glitter and brightness about it; the first movement is - I imagine - a hale welcome to a sunny day. The trumpet has some subdued moments in the development, but for the most part it’s a chance to ring out high, bright, and clear. The adagio is especially finely done, with outstanding emotional tenderness, before we get, in the finale, another dash forward with pianist and trumpeter competing to outdo each other in bravado. Given the bright, splashy sound the players make in the work, it is very easy indeed to forget that the original work was written for cello and piano.

Karl Pilss’ 1935 sonata somehow feels more Germanic than Mendelssohn or Schumann, maybe because its opening has a dark, searching quality, or because its development works out the theme - the first movement has only one theme, really; the second subject is only a bit player - following Brahms’ template. The finale has echoes of something I’ve heard before, though I’m not quite sure where; the short sonata (14 minutes) makes a lovely finish to the album as a whole. Aficionados could rightly accuse it of being empty calories, but they’re enjoyable calories, and who could deny that ending, with the piano rushing up to meet a proud trumpet fanfare?

Throughout, Freeman-Attwood has a simply golden tone and full command of his instrument; he makes this sound easy, except the really hard bits, which he at least makes sound non-fiendish, like they were written that way for expressive reasons rather than to trip lesser artists up. In the slow movements his brightness is handed in for lyrical warmth, just as polished, and Daniel-Ben Pienaar is a polished, sensitive accompanist everywhere who relishes the occasional spotlight moment. Engineering strikes the perfect balance: neither too close to hear performing sounds nor far enough for reverb. This really outstripped my expectations, and now I’ve gotten to thinking about some of this duo’s earlier discs. Linn have struck gold again.

Brian Reinhart

Linn have struck gold: romantic trumpet sonatas! Go on, do a double-take.