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Joseph HAYDN (1752-1809)
Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E flat major Hob. VIIe/1 (1796) [14:42]
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E major, S.49 (1803) [18:42]
Johann Baptist Georg NERUDA (1707-1780)
Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E flat major (c.1730) [16:08]
Ketil Christensen (trumpet)
Liepaja Symphony Amber Sound Orchestra/Atvars Lakstigala
rec. 29-31 May 2012, Normunds Slava, Riga Radio
DANACORD DACOCD742 [50:46]

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 in general.

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 NepomukHummel 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 the 18th - not 17th as the liner-notes suggest - century.

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 information required.

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 consider these.

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.

John France



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