Radiance. Samuel Barber: Three Songs, Op. 10; Joseph Hallman: Sonata for Trumpet and Piano; David Ludwig: Radiance for Piccolo Trumpet and Strings; Catherine McMichael: Totem Voices for Trumpet and Piano; James Stephenson: "Croatian" Trio for Trumpet, Flute, and Piano; Joseph Turrin: Arabesque for Two Trumpets and Piano, Escapade [for Trumpet and Piano], & Fandango for Trumpet, Trombone, and Piano. Mary Elizabeth Bowden, trumpet, Alexandra Carlson, piano, and Milana Strezeva, piano ("Croatian" Trio, Fandango, & Totem Voices), with Mercedes Smith, flute, Zinas Kim-Banther, trombone, David Bilger, trumpet, and with Zoë Martin-Doike & Miho Saegusa, violins, Frank Shaw, viola, Jiyoung Lee, 'cello, and Edward Paulsen, bass. Summit Records SMT 655, © 2015, TT 73:17, $12.99.
Calls and Echoes: American Sonatas for Trumpet and Piano. Stanley Friedman: Sonata for Trumpet and Piano; Kent Kennan: Sonata for Trumpet and Piano; James Stephenson: Sonata for Trumpet and piano; & Robert Suderburg: Chamber Music VII: Ceremonies for Trumpet and Piano. Eric Berlin, trumpet, & Nadine Shank, piano. MSR Classics, MS 1395, © 2103, TT 73:32, $12.95.
In both instances, listings are in alphabetical, not performance order.
Chamber music is not exactly the environment or venue which leaps into one's mind when the trumpet is mentioned as a solo instrument; we associate it with announcements and fanfares, bands and marches, all performed outdoors and with loud flourish. But these two CDs prove that it can indeed display the kinds of dynamics and nuances called for in that setting. The two are, however, very different in style and marketing format.
Bowden's is her début recording; it includes one work, the Hallman, that she commissioned and of which she performed the world première, and another, the Stephenson, that had not yet (at issue) been played before a live audience. [It was to have happened this past summer at a festival in Croatia.] The Ludwig work, which very aptly lends its title to the disk, was originally written for oboe and strings; the recording offers the first performance of this arrangement. This is the first recording for many of the other works (perhaps all but the Barber) as well.
Bowden, who is a member of the Richmond [VA] Symphony Orchestra, said in a press release: "On Radiance, I'm exploring the flexibility of the trumpet as a solo instrument. I chose this collection of compositions because they help convey the different sounds, expressions and colors the trumpet can have while pushing the boundaries of the instrument." She succeeds magnificently; she does things with the instrument one would never have imagined possible, and she produces an absolutely astonishing range of sounds, putting her impressive talents on brilliant display in a very enjoyable and satisfying recital. Her partners all seem equally up to their tasks. The works offer an amazing variety as well and are also well ordered to display it. They were recorded in two different venues, the primary one being the Gould Recital Hall of Lenfest Hall at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, PA, with the Ludwig and Stephenson recorded in the Walton Arts Center at the Artosphere Festival in Fayetteville, AR.
Little of this information is in the liner notes, however, which consist solely of a brief bio of Bowden found on the two left inside panels of the attractive full-color tri-fold paperboard case, with the credits below it. The plastic holder for the disk is glued onto the far right section over a close-up photo of the artist's face, the instrument's mouthpiece below her chin. A different but similar photo is on the front when the folder is closed (as well as on the face of the disk), with yet another on the right side of its back; the track listings with timings in two columns occupy its left side. There are two other different photos elsewhere. The packaging of the product resembles that of a pop music album.
Berlin's disk offers more traditional fare, being primarily three-movement sonatas, so it does not offer an equivalent variety in instrumentation, but the works are quite different from each other. There are also more moments of music of the sort one anticipates hearing from this instrument, but it by no means dominates. The disk acquires its title from the first two movements (different tempos) of the Suderburg* work, which closes the program, movements that offer the named effect. The first movement of the Stephenson piece (note that works by him appear on both programs) that opens the recital offers it as well, as do other similar motives in other pieces. The ordering of the works is well thought-out: the first movement of the second piece, the Friedman, has the same tempo marking as the closing one of the Stephenson, for example, and the program ends with a "procession." The variety among the movements, even if less broad than that of the works on Bowden's disk, offers opportunities for Berlin to display the range of his talent, which is equally extraordinary, his variations in dynamics being particularly remarkable and effective. The piano has a greater role here than in Bowden's program, with several moments to shine forth alone, which Shank handles superbly, with corresponding nuances in dynamics. Their partnership impresses.
The product is the standard issue: jewel case with accompanying booklet (12 pages) inserted into its cover. It contains notes about the works, bios of the composers, and bios of the musicians accompanied by small black and white photos of them. A color photo of Berlin, crouching amd leaning against a wall with his instrument in his right hand, its horn on his thigh, is on the back cover, superimposed on a reproduction of a blue work of modern art which appears to include or portray glass that spreads across both covers when the booklet is open and is also reproduced on the inside of the tray card. Berlin lists his instruments on page 10 of the notes (p. 11 is an announcement of an earlier CD and acknowledgements – he also has a more recent CD with orchestra). The recording venue was the Bezanson Recital Hall of the Fine Arts Center at UMass, Amherst, where both musicians are members of the music department's faculty. Its acoustic is a bit vold and dry, and the balance of the instruments is occasionally not optimal; there is an unfortunate feeling of distance and emptiness in spots.
Both of these out-of-the-ordinary and unusually fine CDs arrived on my desk shortly after I had reviewed Paul Neebe's, and I thought immediately that a review of them was deserved and would make a good companion piece. The three musicians know each other. We regret it took so long to get this done!
*Suderberg was the third chancellor of the institution now known as the UNC School of the Arts, starting in 1974.