Nov 12

ClarkCornet

Cornet Soloist of the Sousa Band Herbert L. Clarke ★★★★

Herbert Clarke was among the first few generations of trumpet players with a modern three-valved trumpet, and he helped define the nature of virtuosity in trumpet playing. HL Clarke has written many of the trumpet lesson books that exist, and several of which I use on a regular basis. This is a very old historic recording, and the sound is horrid on many of the tracks. The producer admits that they did their best to clean up the recordings and to remove record scratchiness, but it is still a fairly prominent part of the background noise. Even still, it is a delight to hear an early master of the trumpet. While virtuosity today has well exceeded what Clarke demonstrates in these recordings, the Clarke recordings still demonstrate a great mastery of the instrument achieved by few even today.

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Nov 12

Handel

Händel Edition; produced by Brilliant Classics ★★★★★

This was a budget compilation of many of the works of Georg Fredrick Händel, produced by Brilliant Classics. Many of the Brilliant Classics productions are substandard, but this production was not. Most of the pieces included in this collection were excellent performances with excellent recording technique. Though the 65 discs in this offering were quite budget in price, they were anything but budget in quality, and compete adequately with productions by other recording studios. Particularly, many of the vocal pieces were superbly performed, as well as the organ concertos. The Messiah production by Steven Cleobury competes with the other 10-15 recordings of the Messiah in my collection. It is at times a touch rushed, but I find that consistent with British recordings of the Messiah.

So, a few words on Händel. First, I find it incomprehensible that his name is spelled Handel or Haendel, and not Händel, which was his birth name spelling. OK, the Brits don’t have umlauts, but the British be damned, regardless of Händel’s tolerance for the British misspelling of his name. My exposure to Händel has up to now been limited. I’ve had a smattering of his most popular pieces, but there is not much out there with Händel that’s affordable. I’ve watched a number of his operas (in DVD video format), which are very tedious, and a strain on the sentiments of a modern opera lover.

Händel was born about 30 miles from where JS Bach was born in this same year of Bach’s birth. Though Händel became the wealthy internationally acclaimed composer, his works are brilliant but lacking the absolute genius of Bach, even when considering his Messiah. There is a sense of tediousness in working through Händel that is never found in Bach. Both composers borrowed heavily from other compositions that they or others composed, but Bach had a flair for instilling a brilliance to the new use of the music that is lacking with Händel. This is not to say that Händel was not an accomplished composer, and this collection by Brilliant has done a nice job of pointing out to me many of the lesser recognized works of Händel that are absolutely delightful, but rarely ever performed. Hopefully, some day we will see a COMPLETE Händel Edition with high quality performances. Until then, this collection of Händel is a very reasonable and inexpensive alternative.

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Aug 28

Faust

Gounod’s Faust, with Angela Gheorghiu (Margeurite), Roberto Alagna (Faust), Bryn Terfel (Méphistophélès), and the Royal Opera House★★★★★

Though Gounod wrote several operas and much other music, the opera Faust remains among the best and most compelling works. It is a wonderful liberal adaptation of Goethe’s Faust to the opera house. Unfortunately, it is not so commonly performed. Betsy and I saw it in Chicago at the Lyric Opera house many moons ago, with Samuel Ramey playing Méphistophélès (i.e., the devil). Yet, the music is most delightful, and the storyline modestly faithful to the Goethe story and thus far more interesting than the standard Italian tragic opera. In this production, it was staged in 1800’s Paris, which isn’t exactly where Goethe scripted his Faust story, but fitting for a French Gounod adaptation. Most the scenes were well done, though a few were a bit outlandish and distracting, such as the bleeding statue of Christ in the first act, and Méphistophélès cross-dressed as a lady in the last act. Having Alagna and Gheorghiu fulfill the Faust/Marguerite rolls was quite fitting, especially when they were singing the love scenes, since they were (at least at the time of this opera production) a married couple. Both were superb actors as well as top class singers, and Terfel was equally capable, though sometimes criticized for not acting devilish enough. I have another production of Faust which tends to put one asleep after the first act, this production doing the opposite. It is a worthy opera to watch, and would be enjoyed, even by those who dislike opera.

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Aug 26

PhilSmithCollection

The Philip Smith Collection ★★★★★

Philip Smith was chair of the trumpet section for the NY Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, starting in 1978, and only retiring recently. He also taught at the Julliard School (which suggests that he had a huge, possibly direct influence, on Wynton Marsalis), where he also studied music. Much of his early trumpet education was from his father, playing in Salvation Army bands. Smith’s style of performance is distinctive and being quite melodious, and singsongy. His technical capabilities are at the top of the realm of virtuosity. What was most notable to me was his ability to blend in with an orchestra without standing out: it was more like an orchestra with a trumpet, rather than a trumpet with an orchestra. The resulting sound was most outstanding. In this collection of three CDs (two of which needed to be downloaded from iTunes), Smith performs both baroque/classical as well as modern pieces, some of which were written specifically for Smith. It is a most worthy collection to have of an outstanding trumpeter.

ArtOfTrumpet

The Art of the Trumpet, Håkan Hardenberger ★★★★★

Håkan Hardenberger, a Swedish trumpet player, makes distinction for having a very fluid, crisp style. He performs a combination of the traditional baroque/classical pieces as well as contemporary. His technical expertise, especially with tonguing, produces a very crisp sound that few trumpeters possess. He  never sounds brassy, but keeps a pleasant tone to his playing. Certainly he stands as one of the contemporary trumpet greats.

NakariaiovTrumpetPianoNakariakovTrumpetORchestraSergei Nakariakov: Trumpet & Piano, Trumpet & Orchestra ★★★★★

This set (of actually two separate albums) are a collection of single CD’s which have been previously published. Nakariakov made his first CD (in the Trumpet & Piano album) when he was only 15 years old, and even then he has a wonderful virtuosic sound. His performances are a mix of the standard baroque/classical trumpet repertoire as well as modern stuff. He plays a combination of instruments, including a flugelhorn. His technical brilliance is unprecedented, save for a few giants like Maurice Andre. Oddly, he doesn’t do Bach’s 2nd Brandenburg Concerto, which is probably one of the most demanding pieces in the whole trumpet repertoire to perform well. Owing to his young age, we can expect many more years of the most superb trumpet music from Sergei, and perhaps even hear more from Bach.

 

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Mar 05

AndreTrumpetSound

Maurice André – The Trumpet Shall Sound – 2 CDs

Of the greatest trumpet players of my life time, the three that stand out are Rafael Mendez, Maurice André, and Marsalis Wynton. Mendez was probably the technically greatest player of the bunch, overcoming enormous obstacles and endless practice to achieve a status on the trumpet similar to Paganini on the violin — he completely re-defined the media for both classical and jazz players. Maurice André wins the prize of overall excellence in the classical sphere. He had the most extensive repertoire, even converting solos for other instruments like the bassoon or oboe or flute into trumpet solos. His technical fluency is most remarkable. He is best known for his command of the piccolo trumpet, though there isn’t a trumpet piece on either the regular or piccolo trumpet that doesn’t sing in his hands. Common to all three players is the endless practice schedule from dawn to dusk to maintain the extraordinary proficiency on the instrument that they possessed. Playing the trumpet may look easy, but it is as challenging as any other musical instrument, if not more.

This album of two CDs is a smattering of André’s performances, mostly in the baroque realm. It is a total delight. His playing never grates or irritates the listener. His command of the instrument is both smooth and majestic. This album is a wonderful showcase of a man who has truly mastered the instrument of the trumpet.

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