Saturday 15 November 2014

Four new trumpet concertos from Simon Desbruslais

Psalm - Contemporary British Trumpet Concertos - Signum Classics
Trumpet Concertos by Deborah Pritchard, Robert Saxton, John McCabe; Simon Desbruslais, Orchestra of the Swan, David Curtis, Kenneth Woods; Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Four new British trumpet concertos, brilliant, seductive and engrossing

The trumpet as a concertante instrument rather missed out on the 19th century, there are baroque and classical concerto and modern concertos but none in the middle (there are no concertos between Hummel's 1803 concerto and early 20th century French concertos). This lack of repertoire is something which trumpeter Simon Desbruslais is working towards remedying, and on this new disc on Signum Classics he performs concertos by Deborah Pritchard, Robert Saxton, and John McCabe with the Orchestra of the Swan and conductors Kenneth Woods and David Curtis, with three of the concertos being new commissions.

Desbuslai played Robert Saxton's 1992 concerts, Psalm: A Song of Ascents in 2008 and asked Robert Saxton to wite another concerto which became the 2013 concerto Shakespeare's Scenes. And this led to the commission to Deborah Prichard, who was one of Saxton's pupils and a commission to John McCabe. The result is a remarkable group of concertos for the instrument (or rather instruments, not all use the standard trumpet).

Simon Desbruslais
Simon Desbruslais
Deborah Pritchard (born 1977) wrote Skyspace for the piccolo trumpet, at Desbruslais' requestion; thus making it the first modern concerto for that instrument. Pritchard's concerto draws on her synaestheric approch to composition and along with her experience of visiting one of James Turrell's skyspaces. The concerto is in seven short movements, each of which Pritchard intends to depict the varying sky colours seen whilst watching the sky through a skyspace. The seven movements are Aurum, Aurum Resonance, Light Iridescent, Opaque, Opaque Resonance, Darkk Iridescent and Cerulian. The music starts from a dramatic rhetorical statement and has a rather filmic quality, and Pritchard develops her material into more complex layers, bleak at times, before the quiet resolution at the muted and rather low key end. Interestingly, this concerto like the others on the disc seems to skip over the structure of the 19th century concerto and return to a more baroque view with the soloist as primus inter pares rather than a dramatic or romantic confrontaiton. Whilst the music did not immediately invoke for me the experience of viewing one of Turrell's skyspaces, I enjoyed the concerto immensely with its interesting layers of interaction between soloist and orchestra.

Robert Saxton (born 1953) wrote Psalm: A Song of Ascents in 1992 for John Wallace and the London Sinfonietta for the orchestra's 25th anniversary. The work references the psalms of the bible, with the solo trumpet leading the orchestra on what Saxton refers to as a spiritual journey in what is a single movement 15 minute work. Saxton's writing is a wonderfuly complex interweaving of trumpet and orchestral lines. The writing is not tonal, but is highly lyrically expressive. There are lots of notes and the trumpet part gets rather bravura. Desbruslais and orchestra bring a lovely sense of rapture to the work, whilst making light of the difficulties of actually performing the piece; no mean feat indeed.

Orchestra of the Swan
Orchestra of the Swan
La Primavera by John McCabe (born 1939) was inspired by ideas of spring, both the burgeoning of new growth and flowering. It is in three movements, Allegro, Andante and Quick, with the soloist using a flugelhorn for the slower middle movement. The perky Allegro features quite a lot of slithering chromatics in the melodic material, and a very prominent percussion part. There is is lots of rhythmic interest, and hints of Tippett in the wind writing. The Andante is a complex yet lyrically expressive movement, the solo flugelhorn is to the fore with discreet orchestral support and disturbances from the percussion. I also kept hearing echoes of Tippett in the srings. The finale is busy, full of rythmic interest and incisive, involving playing.

Robert Saxton's Shakespeare's Scenes reflects another aspect of Saxton's personal heritage (his background mixes Jewish experience with English Anglicanism). The work is in five movements, each a separate character scene. Saxton unifies them by using the same pitch centres in each movement (based on the musical letters in Shakespeare's name). The Magic Wood refers to A Midsummer Nights Dream and seems a prelude to something with hushed strings and mutel trumpet, yet full of incident. Falstaff has a thoughtful trumpet part supported by richly divided strings. The Storm on the Heath refers of course to King Lear, and it is a subtle storm with the virtuoso trumpet part being exciting but not too loud. Masque evokes a more general tradition of Jacobean masque. A call to attention is followed by a long sung trumpet part and fascinating string parts (more Tippett here), with a flourish at the end. The Magic Island is of course Prospero's island, a quietly intense movement bringing the concerto to the end.

These are four varied and rather finely written concertos, full of incident they each explore different aspects of the trumpet as a solo instrument. I was particulaly taken with Robert Saxton's complex yet seductive music, but all have an aspect which appeals. Commissioning new music, the commisioner can feel lucky if an occasional work is a winner but here Desbruslais seems to have a whole group.

The music is difficult to play, Saxton's music in particular makes heavy demands on the orchestral players and the Orchestra of the Swan comes up trumps and matches Desbuslais for virtuosity, whilst giving discreet support when necessary. Throughout conductors David Curtis and Kenneth Wood guide everything with skill and poise.

Simon Desbruslais has his eye on further new works to expand the trumpet repertoire, but in the meantime do try this disc.

Deborah Pritchad (born 1977) - Skyspace (2012) (1)
Robert Saxton (born 1953) - Psalm: A Song of Ascents (1992) (1)
John McCabe (born 1939) - La Primavera (2012) (1)
Robert Saxton (born 1953) - Shakespeare's Scenes (2013) (1)
Simon Desbruslais (trumpet)
Orchestra of the Swan
Kenneth Woods (conductor) (1)
David Curtis (conductor) (2)
Recorded Civic Hall, Stratford upon Avon, 24 May 2013, 14/15 June 2012
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