Wind concerti: When the trumpet shines
by Werner Theurich
Kent Nagano can do a lot: Effortlessly he conducts even trumpet concerti from French modernism. His Montreal Symphony Orchesta then sounds like a swinging ballroom orchestra
It is the old solists song: Tell me where the concerts are! There are too little virtuoso compositions with orchestra, especially for wind instruments. And anything that was ever written for the shining trumpet seems to have already been checked off by experts such as Maurice André, Ludwig Güttler and Sergej Nakariakov. Competing ladies Alison Balsom and Tine Ting Helseth reach for Puccini or Kreisler arrangements, and for Michel Legrand.
In France however, there are shimmering treasures to be yielded. Three of which were recently discovered by conductor Kent Nagano and the OSM’s solo trumpeter, Paul Merkelo. French trumpet concerti from the 20th century – and they still sound like high-end Belle Epoque. Montreal remains a base for Nagano, even if the sophisticated Maestro will take over the artistic directorship of the Hamburg Staatsoper from 2015-16.
Nagano’s broad repertoire is shown on the CD "French Trumpet Concertos" (Analekta) which combines the works of composers Henri Tomasi (1901-1971), Alfred Desenclos (1912-1971), and André Jolivet (1905-1974); none of the three a long-runner on the international concert stages, but highly interesting. And with their trumpet concerti, they become welcome inspiration for individualists.
Between twelve-tone technique and Gregorian
Tomasi was a conductor himself; free from any reservations towards music styles beyond pure serious music. Especially folk music from France (Corsica, Provence) fascinated him, but also music from the South Sea or the Sahara. Between twelve-tone technique, which he knew but did not honour too much, and Gregorian, he kept seeking for a melodic expression, particularly in his concertos for wind players.
Tomasis’s three-movement and only 16 minutes long trumpet concerto still leaves much space for soloist Paul Merkelo, to interweave his clear and unmistaken sound with silky orchestra, luring harp and dreamy glissandi. At times, it does seem very favourable and soundtrack-like, but keeps drifting into surprising harmonious turns.
With rugged sound layers, Alfred Desenclos expects more from the listener, while he keeps it short, just as his colleague Tomasi. Desenclos, a studied industrial designer from Paris, thought more complex in a structural sense, but rarely left the classical harmonious context, which in turn leads to delicate high notes and floating cantilenas: thus grateful material. As a choirmaster, he had developed a sense of voices and harmonies, which he skillfully assigned to orchestral effects. A requiem and a symphony prove this.
Paul Merkelo knows no limits
The three short movements of André Jolivet’s second trumpet concerto almost sound a little like Kurt Weill, most notably when it comes to business in the “Giocoso”. Atmospheric damper sounds and smokey jazz feeling for the trumpet: The French repertoire ideally complements each other on this CD, after all, the composers were contemporaries.
With this cocktail, soloist Paul Merkelo proves that in Canada, there are no stilistic frontiers for the orchestra. Merkelo (his favourite composer: Gustav Mahler) has been a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra since 1995, and is regarded as one of Canada’s and the US’s best solo trumpeters. He knows no limits between Baroque and jazz music, and has worked internationally with conductors such as Solti, Bernstein, Maazel, and Dutoit.
A versatility adventurous Kent Nagano stands for, too - Hamburg can look forward. He will start his tenure there the French way, with Hector Berlioz’ "Les Troyens". A good omen for the Nagano era.