French Trumpet Concertos. Paul Merkelo, trumpet. Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO)/Kent Nagano. Analekta. Total Time: 44:00.
Over his 20 years of service as principal trumpet of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Paul Merkelo has been highly praised for his impeccable technique and for the purity of his sound. Although his two earlier CDs were certainly well-received, this new one should finally bring him the widespread recognition he deserves. With his colleagues in the MSO, under the direction of Kent Nagano, Merkelo delivers near-definitive performances of three classics of the Twentieth Century trumpet repertoire, with rich and detailed sound quality provided by Analekta.
The repertoire for trumpet and orchestra is not very large: some concertos from the Baroque period – mostly clarino pieces in the high register; the Haydn and Hummel concertos from the Classical era; then a curious gap until the early Twentieth Century. Beethoven, Schumann, Richard Strauss and Mahler seemed to have had no interest in featuring the trumpet in their concertos, possibly because of the technical limitations of the instrument. Valves were not introduced until the middle of the Nineteenth Century.
French composers took the lead in exploiting the possibilities for solo trumpet in the early Twentieth Century. There is some spectacular trumpet writing in Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé” (1912) and Debussy’s “La Mer” (1905), but neither composer wrote a trumpet concerto.
The composers featured on this CD – Tomasi, Jolivet and Desenclos – are not major composers compared to Ravel or Debussy, but each of them has made an important contribution to trumpet literature, and, at least, two of the works recorded here are consistently compelling enough to be a part of the standard repertoire.
Although Henri Tomasi (1901-1971) toiled pretty much in obscurity, his Concerto for Trumpet demonstrates real mastery of the solo instrument and the orchestra. Merkelo is equal to all the technical challenges and is especially impressive in his almost miraculous control of dynamics. The hauntingly beautiful slow movement could be mistaken for the soundtrack of a romantic film.
The Incantation, Thrène et Danse by Alfred Descenclos (1912-1971), an even more obscure composer, is a brooding, impressionistic piece. Of the three concertos on this CD, this one is the least successful. Merkelo plays it with his usual mastery, making the most of its limited possibilities.
Andre Jolivet’s (1905-1974) Trumpet Concerto No. 2 dates from 1954 and is in some ways the most ambitious of the three works on the disc. The orchestra is much more involved in the proceedings and is often treated as a jazz band. With its double bass solos, a prominent solo piano part and lots of percussion, this piece is great fun and Merkelo and the musicians of the MSO really get into it.
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