Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)
Fantasy on Motifs from the Opera La Traviata for Trumpet
and Orchestra (1869) [11:15]
Euphonium Concerto in E-flat, Op 155 (1872) [13:23]
Trumpet Concerto in E-flat, Op 198 (1867) [10:05]
Gran Capriccio in F minor for Oboe and Orchestra, Op 80 [11:20]
Trumpet Concerto in F, Op 123 (1866) [14:20]
Giuliano Sommerhalder (trumpet); Roland Fröscher (euphonium);
Simone Sommerhalder (oboe)
Mecklenburg State Orchestra, Schwerin/Matthias Foremny
rec. Staatstheater, Schwerin, Germany, June and July (trumpet) 2010
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 901 1642-6
Instrumental works by Italian opera composers always come as a surprise. This
program proves more unexpected than most. The wind concerto
probably isn't a genre that immediately suggests Ponchielli,
offhand. Before hitting his stride as an opera man, the composer
spent his galley years as a wind-band conductor; four of these
works date from that stage of his career. The early, undated
Gran Capriccio was originally for oboe and piano, though
the score's indications of "tutti" and so forth suggest
that it was conceived for orchestral performance. The present
realization is by Wolfgang Höhensee. Max Sommerhalder expanded
the original wind-band accompaniments of the other four items
The three official concertos and the capriccio all follow the
same basic pattern. Each begins with an introductory ritornello
of the sort that might herald a full three-movement concerto,
with those of the euphonium concerto and Opus 123 being fairly
substantial. With the solo entry, however, the form broadly
follows the tripartite aria-and-cabaletta model of bel canto
opera, with each theme subject to embellishment and variation.
In the capriccio, contrasting episodes provide additional, "horizontal"
variety in the cabaletta section.
The music itself is all appealingly wrought and displays an
almost extravagant level of melodic fecundity. Don't expect
the sweeping, veristic style of La Gioconda, however.
The broad, ornamented lyric lines are straight out of bel
canto, while elsewhere there's a rhythmic snap - as in the
jaunty little march theme at 4:02 of the E-flat concerto - that's
more nearly akin to early-to-middle Verdi.
The Traviata fantasy might suggest something cheesy,
in the order of all those Maurice André transcriptions
of the 1970s and 1980s. In fact it leaves a much more positive
impression than that. Ponchielli wrote it for the tromba,
a larger, lower instrument than the standard Italian cornetto.
While the composer does throw in some upward excursions, he
also exploits the instrument's warm, expressive tenor midrange
in cantabile melodies. Operaphiles expecting an analogue
to Liszt's operatic fantasies for piano, however, may be taken
aback by a potpourri of mostly inconsequential choruses rather
than popular arias. Among the latter, only the tenor's De'
miei bollenti spiriti and the theme of - for lack of a better
description - Violetta's death ensemble come into play.
The soloists are all excellent. Giuliano Sommerhalder's clear,
open tone transcends the stereotype of the virtuoso trumpeter.
He shapes the ornamental bits and the cantabiles alike
with a natural-sounding flexibility though his moments of impulsive
rushing are less well considered. He projects each note with
a pillowy, unpressed tone, even in staccatos. The rapid-fire
writing in the concluding portion of Op. 123 dazzles, as does
the row of perfect trills that follows. He phrases that tenor
melody in the Traviata fantasy with a "vocal" sensitivity.
Unlike the trumpet, the euphonium doesn't immediately lend itself
to flourishes. Its horn-like mouthpiece must be devilishly difficult
to control though it's well-suited to lyrical writing. Roland
Fröscher acquits himself well, even if all the notes in
the fancy passagework don't quite speak dead center. The oboist
in the Gran capriccio, Simone Somerhalder, produces a
nice, full tone, plangent but never wheezy. She's expressive
in the legato lines and deft in the decorations. I'd like to
hear her in the Mozart and other standard concertos.
Matthias Foremny leads assured, stylish performances. I actually
thought I was hearing Italian players, albeit very well-disciplined
ones, before I checked the booklet.That said, the inner strings
betray a few dry moments, if you listen closely. The recordings,
as heard in ordinary stereo, are fine. I attribute the more
vivid registration of the orchestra in the capriccio to a fuller,
more vivid orchestral arrangement rather than to a difference
in engineering. The soloists are front and center, but not exaggeratedly
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach,