PONCHIELLI: Fantasy on Motifs from the opera La Traviata for Trumpet, Op. 146; Euphonium Concerto, Op. 155; Trumpet Concerto, Op. 198; Gran Capriccio for Oboe, Op. 80; Trumpet Concerto, Op. 123 – Giuliano Sommerhalder, trumpet/ Roland Froscher, euphonium/ Simone Sommerhalder, oboe/ Mecklenburgische Staatskapelle Schwerin/ Matthis Foremny, conductor – MD&G Scene multichannel SACD (2+2+2) 901 1642, 60:58 [Distr. by E1] ***1/2:
Who is Amilcare Ponchielli you might ask? Well, aside from being the composer of La Giaconda, he is well known for writing the Dance of the Hours, the most famous bit probably made infamously immortal by Alan Sherman as “Hello Muddah, hello Faddah” on the Ed Sullivan Show many years ago (in case you need a refresher, try this) He was in fact much more than that, convinced for many years that his fortune lay as an opera composer, yet destined to be little more than a musical footnote. But in this day when practically everyone is being rediscovered, why not Ponchielli? He was a composer who was amazingly gifted, and had a lot of success in his time.
Thirteen rather dismal years were spent composing for a wind band, and he created many pieces for this ensemble, though the work was drudgery to him—hard to imagine anything further from opera than wind music. Yet because of the enormous popularity of Verdi he was able to bring some opera into his musical routine, as shown by the La Traviata fantasy here. And concertos? Well, there were plenty of them created during those years, though one of the things you might notice about these performances is that they are all for orchestra and not the original band arrangements (with the exception of the Gran Capriccio which might have been intended for orchestra but remains only in piano score and was orchestrated in 1923 and redone for this recording). This, I fear, is a flaw in the conception of this program. Why not give us what Ponchielli wrote? What would be so bad about that? Why the need to arrange them for orchestra here? I cannot figure that one out, unless the producers thought the idea of printing “wind band” on the cover would dissuade people from buying the album. News flash—it is the name Ponchielli that is more likely to discourage a potential buyer, not the instrumentation. So three trumpet works are given, one for euphonium (a sort of tenor tuba), and a marvelous work for oboe.
What saves the concept from going sour is the magnificent playing on this disc, especially by brand-spanking new Principal Trumpeter of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, 26-year-old Giuliano Sommerhalder, whose astounding technique redounds in every bar, and who approaches this music with a real flair and almost I-dare-you mannerism. His fast vibrato is almost period-like in these works, and he has a lot of fun. Simone Sommerhalder, lately of the Gewandhaus Orchestra also makes easy work of the difficult Gran Capriccio, surely one of the composer’s finest creations in any genre. The Euphonium playing of Roland Froscher is quite, well, euphonious (you just knew that one was coming, didn’t you?), and all the forces here are on top of their games. The music is really a mixed bag, much superb, others a little parlorish, but that is just what Ponchielli was and is, so if you like it you will relish this album, and if not—well try it anyway, just for the remarkable instrumentalists involved. The surround sound is truly excellent, well-spread and evenly distributed.
— Steven Ritter
Mack Avenue Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a Christian McBride duet album.