Trumpet Panoply = Works of ARUTIUNIAN; HUMMEL; TARTINI; RICHARD PEASLEE – John Holt, trumpet & flugelhorn/ UNT – Crystal

by | Sep 7, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

Trumpet Panoply = ALEXANDER ARUTIUNIAN: Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra; HUMMEL: Concerto in E-flat Major for Trumpet and Orchestra; TARTINI: Concerto in D Major for Trumpet and Orchestra; RICHARD PEASLEE: Nightsongs  – John Holt, trumpet and flugelhorn / UNT Symphony Orchestra / Anshel Brusilow / Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Tartini) / Kirk Trevor / UNT Chamber Orchestra (Peaslee) / Clay Couturiaux  – Crystal Records CD769, 56:49 ***:
This is the latest in a series of releases from Crystal Records featuring John Holt, principal trumpet with the Dallas Opera Orchestra and associate professor of trumpet at the University of North Texas. That explains the participation of the UNT Symphony and Chamber Orchestras, whose membership is drawn “from the finest musicians attending the College of Music at the University of North Texas.”
On the evidence of the current program, the orchestra is more attuned and sympathetic to modern composers than to those of the Classical era. But to tell truth, I’m not sure why the sparkling Hunmel concerto falls flat. From the first bars, you can tell this is going to be a low-energy run-through, and so it proves to be. I was rather surprised given that the same conductor, Anshel Brusilow, appears in the snappy performance of the Artutiunian that precedes the Hummel. It’s further surprising since I vividly recall Anshel Brusilow from his days with the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, a group that had such success on the concert stage and on recordings (for RCA) that the management of a famous rival orchestra in Philadelphia (not naming any names) orchestrated its demise, or so I’ve heard. I remember Brusilow’s recordings, among which was a well-received pairing of Cherubini’s Symphony in D and Haydn’s Symphony No. 60, “Il Distratto.”  These were truly enlivening performances of works from the Classical era, hence my surprise over the Hummel on the current Crystal CD. John Holt plays well enough (though I’ve heard more scintillating renditions of the solo part), but given the slow tempi and generally soggy accompaniment, he’s working at a serious disadvantage, and this recording of the perennial favorite can’t begin to compete with the many fine versions available on disc.
Whether this is a showstopper for most potential purchasers will probably depend on the remainder of the program, which is unusual and fairly interesting. If you have a liking for the music of Khachaturian, you’ll probably dig Alexander Arutiunian’s Concerto in A-flat for Trumpet and Orchestra. It evinces the same debt to Armenian folk music, as well as the same rhythmic snappiness and upbeat character as Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto. It’s also about as kitschy as Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto, so be forewarned. It won’t be to every music lover’s or even trumpet enthusiast’s liking, but the virtuoso writing for the soloist makes it worth hearing. The fiery, committed playing of the orchestra is a definite plus. Clearly, all hands take Arutiunian seriously.
The other works on the program, each just over ten minutes in length, are almost appendices to the big splashy pieces, but they have their own attractions. The Tartini Concerto in D Major was adapted by Holt himself from one of Tartini’s hundred plus violin concertos and acts as a sort of palate cleanser, much needed after the limp second course (the Hummel). The adaptation is tastefully and skillfully done, and Holt plays it with sprightly energy—very enjoyable.
Richard Peaslee’s Nightsongs was commissioned by Harold Lieberman, a staff trumpeter of CBS Radio and TV, and while it thus has some expected pop overtones, it also includes some interesting excursions into the realms of sharp dissonance bordering on the atonal. Written for the mellow Flugelhorn, the piece nonetheless asks the soloist to visit high tessitura reaches and thus provides more opportunities for Holt to showcase his considerable skills. Beautifully even solo trills introduce and conclude the piece.
With decent if hardly outstanding recorded sound and (with the disappointing exception of the Hummel) very decent playing by the orchestras, this program certainly has its points. Will those good points outweigh the considerable downside of a Hummel Concerto you probably won’t want to hear again? I leave that to you, gentle reader.
—Lee Passarella

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