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Shostakovich PC1 8579117
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Alexander Arutiunian (1920-2012)
Trumpet Concerto (1950, cadenza by Timofei Dokshizer)
Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996)
Trumpet Concerto in B flat major Op. 94 (1966-1967)
Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Concerto No. 1 Op. 35 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings (1933, arr. Dokshizer & Merkelo)
Paul Merkelo (trumpet), Jae-Hyuck Cho (piano)
Russian National Orchestra/Hans Graf
rec. 2019, Zaryadye Hall, Moscow, Russia
NAXOS 8.579117 [61]

All three works are connected to Timofei Dokshizer, the Ukrainian-born trumpet wizard. He did much to expand the instrument’s repertoire, and commissioned many composers to write concertos for him. Dokshizer had a highly successful career as a soloist – he became known in the West for his recording of the Arutiunian concerto which found great favour there – and he had a 25-year tenure as professor of trumpet at the Gnessin Academy of Music in Moscow.

It was only very recently that I heard Arutiunian’s concerto last. It was chosen by the finalist in the brass category of the 2022 BBC Young Musician of the Year, Sasha Canter, who I must say made a fine job of it. It is no wonder that it became so well-loved around the world. It is greatly tuneful, and it alludes to many folk tunes from the composer’s native Armenia. The trumpet enters with the very first note, and there is barely any let-up for the soloist. After a brief introduction, the instrument presents the concerto’s main theme, the first of the many folk references. (Anyone familiar with the music of Armenia’s favourite son Aram Khachaturian will recognise much in the concerto to bring back memories of that composer’s Adagio from his ballet Spartacus, which was the theme of the popular 1970s TV drama The Onedin Line.) Arutiunian’s main theme reappears at various points but there are also moments somewhat plaintive and laced with nostalgia. Dokshizer’s cadenza, which highlights his exceptional ability on the trumpet, is a test for any practitioner of the instrument: it leaves the soloist nowhere to hide. Then the concerto appears to end rather abruptly – and somewhat surprisingly – on an unexpected note.

Mieczysław Weinberg’s trumpet concerto is an altogether more serious affair. It lasts close to half an hour, and that made Shostakovich describe it as a symphony for trumpet. Dokshizer gave the première in Moscow in January 1968. In recent years, the concerto has come to be regarded as a landmark of the instrument’s repertoire. It might have established itself earlier, had it not been for the fact that Weinberg's music struggled to get a hearing until the last 10 years or so. Now, happily, his brilliantly inventive music has started to achieve the recognition it deserves.   The first movement, Etudes, begins with a soaring trumpet against a backdrop of spiky punctuations from the orchestra. A more prolonged dialogue ensues, though there are repeated moments when the orchestra simply prods with isolated bursts as if taunting the soloist – until the cadenza, when it provides a more generous but seemingly somewhat reluctant accompaniment. Episodes, the concerto’s second movement, begins with a more settled orchestra. Strings and timpani declaim, and later flute and harp introduce a calming and melodic moment into which the soloist enters in sympathy. This episode is short-lived as the orchestra becomes more disturbed before things quieten down. Flute and side drum provide a peaceful transition to the final movement, Fanfares, opening with bells. There soon follow several quotations, beginning with the opening seven notes from Mendelsohn’s Wedding March later repeated throughout the movement. Other quotations come from Mahler, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich and Weinberg himself. It is all accompanied by muted interjections from bells and percussion together with the soloist before the movement suddenly ends.

Shostakovich’s 1933 concerto is written for piano, trumpet and strings. The trumpet already had a considerable part but it gets an expanded role, composed by Dokshizer and further embellished by Paul Merkelo. The result is really interesting, and we read that Dokshizer thought his version even better than the original. Given the present soloist’s additions, I am inclined to agree, something I never expected to say about any Shostakovich composition. The trumpet’s larger presence makes its inclusion in the concerto quite relevant, more than an interesting addition to the piano.

The trumpet begins playing right at the start, whereas in the original version it does not enter for two and a half minutes. Throughout the concerto, it plays many of the notes Shostakovich allotted to the piano. It might seem strange to say but there could even be an argument in favour of tweaking the piano’s role now that it is in a somewhat more subservient role. I can truthfully say that I enjoyed this version more: the trumpet’s role appears altogether more justified.

The opening movement is upbeat. The trumpet introduces the main theme, pensive at first but giving way to the second theme, a merry tune. At this point the two instruments have equal roles. The second movement is much more serious. The trumpet is used to great effect to create a plaintive atmosphere, against which the piano echoes the seriousness. The movement segues quite naturally into the short interlude, a Moderato, before an abrupt jump into the final movement. Trumpet pyrotechnics abound, led by the piano, and then the strings mark a change: the tunes become less knockabout and hark back to the opening themes. The piano and trumpet enjoy a dialogue, each vying to outdo the other but in a non-confrontational way. The concerto ends in the middle of a flurry of trumpet notes that fizz with excitement.

On a few occasions, the Russian National Orchestra sound a little ragged and lumbering but it is a minor quibble in an otherwise highly enjoyable programme. Paul Merkelo’s very tuneful playing makes the most of some brilliant writing for his instrument, and his embellishments in the Shostakovich concerto add interest to the work. South-Korean pianist Jae-Hyuck Cho does a fine job in that concerto and the orchestra in general supports the soloists very well. Conductor Hans Graf keeps things on an even keel. The trumpet, though it has a reasonable repertoire, thanks in many cases to Timofei Dokshizer, is not often given the chance to show its abilities, so a disc like this is to be welcomed. Perhaps Naxos, always good in exploring less popular repertoire, might consider more works that Dokshizer inspired.

Steve Arloff

Published: November 10, 2022

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