In recent years the trumpet has made a welcome comeback into the
classical music world. This has largely, but not exclusively, come about
through the stunning performances of Alison Balsom. She has been promoted on
Classic FM and has won the coveted Gramophone Artist of the Year (2013).
Miss Balsom appeared at this year’s Proms and gave a rendition of the
Shostakovich Concerto for piano, trumpet and strings. In my younger days the
‘superstar’ was the Frenchman, Maurice André (1933-2012)
who did much to introduce listeners to the baroque trumpet repertoire. Yet
as a solo instrument in ‘concerto’ it is much less prolific than
strings, woodwind or piano. This is probably a failing of brass instruments
Ketil Christensen was educated at the Royal Danish Academy and later
continued his musical studies in Paris, London and New York. After working
as a member of the Odense Symphony Orchestra he graduated to second trumpet
solo in the prestigious Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra. He was promoted to
first trumpet in 1982, a position that he still retains. Christensen has
been active with the chamber orchestra, Collegium Musicum in Copenhagen and
was a co-founder of the Royal Danish Brass Ensemble. He regularly gives
‘duet’ performances with fellow trumpeter Lars Ole Schmidt.
A glance at Arkiv reveals a number of CDs displaying his interests
in a wide range of music including a series of Danish trumpet concertos and
pot-boilers. His achievement spans musical history from Vivaldi to Holmboe.
The programme begins with Joseph Haydn’s Concerto for Trumpet
and Orchestra in E flat major which was composed in 1796 when the composer
was 44 years old. It has become one of the best known and most performed
examples from the genre. The Arkiv catalogue lists some 89 versions
currently available. This concerto was conceived for what was then a new
style of instrument - the key trumpet. This enabled the composer to indulge
in chromatic passages and allowed for more distant modulations and rapid key
changes. The three movements give ample scope for the soloist to display his
technique. The finale is surely known to all music-lovers, even if they are
often not aware of its source.
There was a time when Johann Nepomuk
Hummel was mentioned in
the same breath as Beethoven, however his star has waned. The liner-notes
suggest that this composer was so prolific that many of his pieces
inevitably lacked quality which has led to them not surviving. The Concerto
for Trumpet and Orchestra in E major, which is surely a masterpiece, was
dedicated to the inventor of the keyed trumpet, Anton Weidinger - as was
Haydn’s. It was composed during December 1803 and premiered in January
of the following year. This concerto is usually executed on the E flat
instrument which makes the fingering easier; Ketil Christensen used the
original E major trumpet on this recording. The work is in three movements.
The opening ‘allegro’ is a satisfying ‘sonata form’
that has two contrasting tunes of great inventiveness. The middle
‘andante’ is a real gem that is truly romantic in temper. Then
follows an exciting finale that requires considerable technical ability.
The Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E flat major by the
Bohemian composer Johann Baptist George Neruda is the earliest work on this
CD and probably the least well known - even to brass enthusiasts. It is also
my favourite on this disc. The work is largely ‘pre-classical’,
being scored for a string orchestra and harpsichord continuo. It is full of
delightful and beguiling tunes, elegant solos and satisfying sequences. This
Concerto is regarded as one of the most important examples of the genre from
- not 17th
as the liner-notes suggest -
Christensen’s playing is stunning: reflecting the nuances of
this music. Often sparkling, sometimes martial and when appropriate moodily
reflective, this is a master-class in brass. The CD has superb sound which
faithfully presents the textures of soloist and orchestra.
The liner-notes, which are in Danish and English give all the
The disc could have had another piece to make it a little longer
than its 50 minutes which is somewhat short these days.
The exact competition to this CD would appear to be Niklas Eklund
and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Roy Goodman (Naxos 8.554806)
which features all three works on a single disc. Alison Balsom has also
recorded all three works. However, I have not had the opportunity to
Danacord and Ketil Christensen offer an attractive programme which
showcases three highly regarded ‘classical’ trumpet concertos.
Each one demands to be heard on its own account.