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Shostakovich PC1 C220011
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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra in C minor, Op. 35 (1933)
Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996)
Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in B flat Major, Op. 94 (1967)
André Jolivet (1905-1974)
Concertino for Trumpet, Strings and Piano (1948)
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (Oh do not sing, fair maiden), Op. 4 No. 4 (arr. for trumpet and piano)
Selina Ott (trumpet)
Maria Radutu (piano)
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Dirk Kaftan
rec. 2020, Vienna Radio Kulturhaus, Austria
ORFEO C220011 [71]

This recording features Selina Ott – the trumpet category winner of the esteemed ARD International Music Competition in 2018 – and the Austrian-Romanian pianist Maria Radutu. This is Ott’s third disc on Orfeo, for whom she recorded both staple pieces and lesser known works in the 20th century solo trumpet repertoire, which I suspects suits her better than high-baroque trumpet music. Since winning the competition, she has performed concertos with many European orchestras, and in 2021 was awarded the Opus Klassik award for Concert Recording of the Year.

The Bucharest-born Maria Radutu has also performed as a soloist with orchestras in Europe Asia and the U.S. She wisely cultivates varied performing interests, which include masterminding her own concert series. Conductor Dirk Kaftan, the General Music Director of Beethoven Orchester Bonn, is also no stranger to the opera repertoire.

Let me first say that the booklet (which reads much better in the original German than in English) contains, as perhaps usual with new recording talent, too many arty black and white photographs of the two young women. It is not relevant to me as a reviewer, listener or musician that these performers are young, and that they are women. As the list of my own talented past students attests, there is now a plethora of superb women trumpet and piano soloists. What I find very important – and exciting after fifty years of solo trumpet playing – is that Selina Ott is an outstanding performer, capable of real interpretative insights, at the very least in the playing of 20th century trumpet music. She is a virtuoso player with the ability to project her own style and sound in a genre that has for many years been dominated by the influence of the major and sometimes great trumpet soloists of the 20th century (one could name the Frenchmen Maurice André, Roger Delmotte and Pierre Thibaud, and the Ukrainian Timofei Dokschitzer). Pianist Maria Radutu can create sparkling, expressive, grand and extremely romantic sounds. One only hopes that the past two years did not cause both soloists a significant career disruption.

In writing this review, I had to reflect on the attributes which make a virtuoso trumpet artist. I have decided that those would be a robust but beautiful sound, outstanding technical facility within the range and era of the pieces one chooses to play, outstanding physical endurance, a tongue like a rattlesnake and nerves of steel. Ott’s playing has all of these hard-won characteristics, plus something one cannot achieve by sheer hard work: an innate sense of style and good taste, sometimes superior to the music one plays.

So, to the music. First up is the Shostakovich concerto. It has always seemed to me mainly a vehicle for solo piano and strings, with the trumpet soloist’s interjections, often humorous or fanfare-like. As in many such pieces, there is much imitation of phrases and motifs between the solo instruments. Both players carry it off deftly, with wit and clarity. I should mention the gorgeous romantic phrases in the Lento second movement, played by Maria Radutu and answered by Selina Ott’s superb legato line. In any good duo, the ability to appear seamlessly from one’s duet partner’s tone is very impressive. This is fine and sensitive playing, despite some rather brittle-sounding string sounds: the middle range of upper strings are not always together.

The last movement gives the trumpet more prominence, and there is some very rhythmic piano playing (with only one small blemish that got through the production net). At the end of the movement, Ott demonstrates her full, well-centred if bright sound and precise articulation. The lighter-sounding C trumpet, her preferred solo instrument, suits the 20th century repertoire and blends well with strings and the piano. The finale is brought to a finish in the correct style in an exciting rhythmic gallop.

Mieczysław Weinberg’s mid-century concerto could have been written for Selina Ott: it is a perfect vehicle to showcase her admirable technique. The three movements are Études, Episodes and Fanfares. Weinberg was a friend of Shostakovich, and the style has some similarities, but here the trumpet is very much the king. In the first movement, the solo part weaves around some fine percussion sounds augmented by frenetic motifs in the strings. The movement ends more quietly with the trumpet muted for some of the time. Ott demonstrates a rare ability: she makes the muted trumpet sing in tune as only a good soloist can and must. The mute comes out for a short recapitulation of the opening ideas.

The middle movement brings some beautiful legato, when the trumpet interplays with other instruments of the orchestra, notably the flute. In a fanfare section, the trumpet plays in contrasts to the orchestral textures. Here there are some intonation issues in the orchestral woodwind section but they do not detract from the general effect. Again, Ott’s ability in the contrasting of staccato and legato is impressive.

It is an unfortunate habit of composers often to include references to famous orchestral excerpts in their brass concertos. I have never been quite sure whether they think this funny or have just run out of ideas. The cadenza-like section of the final movement contains references to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Petruschka, The Golden Cockerel, Carmen – and so on. Would this occur in a violin concerto? In any case, after a good yawn you can hear Selina Ott in full flight in the cadenza, which makes it a worthwhile experience.

I suppose we musicians and performers are all to some level slaves to our experience. I have to admit that, when a piece is special to you, it is easy to feel as if you in some way own it, both through your own performances and in highly regarded versions of other artists. I have always felt this way about Jolivet’s Concertino. It is the shortest concerto on this recording but for me the most original and in musical terms the most successful. There are also many templates to follow, from Maurice André’s effortless recording (in André Jolivet - The Erato Recordings on Warner Classics 2564613202), through Pierre Thibaud’s more angst-ridden but exciting playing, to the warm-sounding Wynton Marsalis (on CBS Masterworks MK42096).

Thus I started to listen to this version with some cynicism and even trepidation – I was nervous for Selina Ott! I should not have been: it is great. It is to her credit that she plays this superb piece completely with her own voice. The phrasing and articulation are crystal clear, her musical intentions are well conceived, shaped via superbly controlled dynamics and a real sense of drama. For me, it is in the slower meno vivo that Selina Ott shows her greatest gift, the ability to tell a real musical story in her own style. The piano is largely treated percussively in this piece but Maria Radutu plays with panache. Her contribution inspires the orchestra under Dirk Kaftan to some of the best playing on the album.

The remaining piece on the programme is an arrangement of Rachmaninov’s seting of Pushkin’s poem. Both players exhibit their fine legato phrasing. Although it is a pleasant piece, I would rather the time had been filled by one of the major trumpet and piano duo pieces, such as Hindemith’s Sonata.

To conclude: I heartily recommend this album. Both soloists are to be congratulated on their contributions. It is rare that one can say that a new trumpet soloist is more than a very fine player but Selina Ott deserves the title of virtuoso. I am off now to try and obtain her first recording. I am a fan now – and believe me, that does not often happen!

John Durrant

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