“Trumpet Combinations” = Works of GARDNER, JELICH, FRANCESCINI, PINO, HANDLE, BLACHER, BUSSER & TOTH – baritone/brass trio/ pipe organ – MD&G

“Trumpet Combinations” = JOHN GARDNER: Sonata da Chiesa sopra un tema di Claudio Monteverdi, Op. 136; VINCENT JELICH: Ricercare; PETRONIO FRANCESCINI: Sonata in D; J.S. BACH: Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren; ANTONIO PINO: Laudate pueri Dominum; HANDEL: The Entrance of the Queen of Sheba from “Solomon”; HANDEL: Revenge, Timotheus Cries from “Alexander’s Feast”; BORIS BLACHER: Divertimento 1946; HENRI BUSSER: Andante et Scherzo; PÉTER TÓTH: Sonata da Chiesa ‒ Joachim Pliquett & Matthias Kühnle, trumpet / Klaus Mertens, baritone / András Fejér, trombone / Arvid Gast, organ ‒ MD&G multichannel SACD Audiomax 906 1930-6 (also 2+2+2); 71:18 ****:

Trumpets and friends in appealing surround sound.

A bland title, perhaps, but a forthright one. Here we have the trumpet in combination with several old friends, namely trombone, baritone voice, and organ. In fact, this recording showcases the organs of St. Jakobi Church in Lübeck. Note that I say organs, because for the older works on the program, Arvid Gast plays the Renaissance Stellwagen organ, while in the modern pieces he holds forth on the church’s impressive great organ.

One musical breadcrumb trail that the performers pursue is the sonata da chiesa, or church sonata, a genre that flourished throughout the Baroque though it was to an extent superseded by the sonata da camera, or chamber sonata. The sonata da chiesa is characterized by alternating slow-fast-slow-fast movements. On the current program, we have three examples from Francescini, Gardner, and Tóth. As a special tribute to the sonata’s roots in the early Baroque, John Gardner’s attractive Sonata for Two Trumpets and Organ is based on the toccata introduction to Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo. Written in the year of Benjamin Britten’s passing, Gardner’s piece is very much a product of the sound world that England’s greatest modern composer created. Not a bad thing at all.

Then we have the real thing, an early Baroque sonata da chiesa by Bolognese composer Petronio Francesini (1651‒1680), a tiny work (six minutes long), whose antiphonal effects will remind you of the Gabriellis.

Fast forward to the late twentieth century (again), and we have a latter-day example from Hungarian composer Péter Tóth (b. 1965) scored for trumpet, trombone, and organ. The trombone adds a certain gravitas to the proceedings not encountered in the bright-hued works of Gardner and Francesini. And while this is tonal music, there’s also a more advanced harmonic language, as well as more rhythmic waywardness, along with Baroque-style counterpoint. It’s an imaginative and appealing tribute to a venerable musical form.

OK, so we’ve cover the sonata da chiesa. From there, we move on to a rather random series of works for trumpet et al. that are quite traditional but don’t represent one musical genre or another. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. So we have seventeenth-century Croatian composer Vincent Jelich’s brief Ricercare for trumpet and trombone and works for baritone voice and varied instrumental support, some in arrangement. This includes Nun lob mein Seel den Herren from Bach’s Cantata No. 167 and the two Handel numbers. I’m fine with the arrangement of  “Revenge, Timotheus Cries,” in which the organ takes over for the orchestra in Handel’s original. However, I don’t buy into the idea that Handel scored his Entrance of the Queen of Sheba for oboes and strings rather than using trumpets because the trumpets of his day “would hardly have been able to master the virtuoso demands of the parts.” In that case he would probably have scored the very virtuosic “Let the Bright Seraphim” (from Samson) for oboe and strings. Or maybe not. Anyway, the trumpets are a glorious, if slightly noisy, presence in this arrangement of Handel’s famous interlude.

The other works on the bill of fare are from the first half of the twentieth century: Henri Busser’s competition piece written for the Paris Conservatoire and the much more interesting, tough-minded neoclassical Divertimento 1946 by Boris Blacher.

Reviewers usually say things like “If the program appeals. . . .” Here, that probably doesn’t apply. But if my description of the program appeals—and I hope I’ve projected it in a positive light—then by all means give this a try. There may be no true high concept behind this collection of pieces from several centuries, but it develops into an entertaining, even stimulating, program. And if you have a surround-sound setup, you’ll be engaged by the subtly effective uses of the medium. In the Laudate pueri Dominum attributed to Antonio Pino, baritone Klaus Martens is presumably positioned in the choir loft, so his voice seems to emanate from the left rear in a surround-sound setup. The same effect occurs in Jelich’s canonic Ricercare, where the trombone is apparently situated in a gallery of the church, in an entirely different sound space from the trumpet. Throughout the program, the grand spaces of the church in Lübeck are convincingly captured by the MD&G engineers. Sound buffs, take note. For those without surround sound, there’s still much to enjoy in this well-played, well-sung program. [But we’re fans of surround sound for music. And previous tests have confirmed that the 2+2+2 system – if you’re willing to set it up for the MD&G discs (which seem to be the only ones doing it) – does provide a superior surround sound on these recordings…Ed.]

—Lee Passarella

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