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Psalm – Contemporary British Trumpet Concertos
Deborah PRITCHARD (b. 1977)
Skyspace (2012) [9:54]
Robert SAXTON (b. 1953)
Psalm: A Song of Ascents (1992) [15:45]
Shakespeare Scenes (2013) [21:01]
John McCABE (b. 1939)
La Primavera (2012) [19:08]
Simon Desbruslais (trumpet)
Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods, David Curtis
rec. Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon, 2012/13
SIGNUM SIGCD403 [65:49]

Simon Debruslais is clearly the master-mind behind this inventive programme of contemporary British trumpet concertos.

When at the University of Oxford Desbruslais came to know the music of Oxford professor Robert Saxton. Saxton composed a piece for trumpet and small orchestra Psalm : A Song of Ascents, a work that Desbruslais performed with the Oxford Sinfonietta in 2008. At that time he approached Saxton with the proposal that he should write another trumpet concerto. The result materialised some time later when Saxton completed his Shakespeare Scenes for trumpet and strings. It's no wonder, then, that Saxton's concertos are given the lion's share in this release.

Both pieces deserve to be better known and when listening to Desbruslais' immaculate performances of these two works one cannot but wonder – again – why music of such quality is so little heard. They are strongly contrasted in mood and intent. As might be implied Psalm draws on the composer's Jewish background although without any real or all-too-obvious borrowings from Jewish music — at least as far as I can tell. It is rather a matter of atmosphere as suggested by the different episodes that make up the piece. “The title is used for my piece to illustrate a spiritual journey through various states, the trumpet as a priest-like master of Ceremonies, initiating the musical voyage accompanied by tubular bells, its role that of both announcement and warning”. These words by the composer put things straight as to what happens in the course of the piece. Knowing that Shakespeare Scenes was to be first performed in Stratford the composer thought of Shakespeare and thus developed the idea of writing a work about some of the plays. This was without any real programmatic intent so that each of the five movements references episodes in the plays without being truly descriptive. Again it is more of a suggestion of atmosphere and mood. So The Magic Wood alludes to A Midsummer Night's Dream whereas the second movement Falstaff is more like a character sketch of that formidable Shakespeare character. The Storm on the Heath is a “depiction of the physical and psychological states of King Lear and his Fool in the driving rain and storm, the trumpet representing the mad monarch, the solo violin his increasingly deranged jester”. The following movement Masque does not refer to any particular play but rather to the masque sequences to be found in some of the plays. The last movement, as if counterbalancing the opening one, is entitled The Magic Island and like Alwyn's similarly titled tone-poem derives from The Tempest.
 
La Primavera composed as recently as 2012 is not John McCabe's first piece for trumpet and orchestra. It was preceded by Rainforest II for trumpet and strings completed in 1987 (Dutton Epoch CDLX 7290). La Primavera is again a splendid work displaying a remarkable vitality and imagination. I have still to hear an indifferent note of music from this composer. The piece unfolds in three concise movements played without a break. Two notable features have to be singled out. First, in the second movement the trumpet is replaced by a flügelhorn — as in Vaughan Williams' Ninth Symphony but also as played by Miles Davis, another musician whom McCabe much admires. Second, the percussion plays an almost obbligato part and it is even suggested that these instruments be placed at the front of the platform next to, or near, the trumpet soloist. By the way, this superb work is in no way connected to Botticelli's celebrated canvas but rather reflects the “exuberance and vitality of burgeoning new growth”.
 
Up to now Deborah Pritchard's music was known to me through a short piece Chanctonbury Ring (2000) featured in a quite fine and interesting NMC release The Hoxton Thirteen (NMC D076) that I reviewed some time ago. I was thus happy to renew acquaintance with her work and to hear a recent piece of hers. Unlike the other works recorded here, Skyspace is for piccolo trumpet and strings. In her notes the composer states that she has a synaesthetic approach to composition with much music written in response to visual artworks or, I suppose, to visual stimuli. She goes on to say that “the perceived sky colour has provided the stimulus for the work, it was not her intention to portray physical colour, rather the imagined colour of the mind's eye”. The seven short movements which the composer describes as miniatures — each of them is quite short, the longest one playing for a little over two minutes — again suggest moods in a concise and remarkably telling way. This, again, is a very fine work and I would certainly like to hear more of her music shortly.
 
Desbruslais's immaculate playing and faultless musicality serve all these works well. I do not think that his playing in these works could be bettered although I sincerely wish that these works were avidly seized upon by any adventurous trumpet player. The Orchestra of the Swan's committed support - and that of the two conductors - is also part of the success of this release. Excellent recordings and illuminating notes by the composers are definitely an added asset to this most desirable release.
 
Hubert Culot