, November 2010
Twenty-five-year-old Giuliano Sommerhalder is principal trumpet in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and has appeared as soloist with many of Europe’s leading orchestras. Here he shines in his first recital program on disc, and an interesting program it is. I’ll let Sommerhalder explain the raison d’être of this project, quoted from his extensive program notes that provide detailed background on every piece:
“This recording features virtuoso works written for trumpet or cornet and orchestra in late Romantic and Neoromantic styles. While they form part of the repertoire at conservatories and in competitions all over the world, they are hardly ever performed in concert. With the exception of the concerto by Oskar Böhme, the versions for symphony orchestra have so far never been commercially recorded. The scores have been rediscovered at various places in the world after many years of research, or have been reconstructed. At a time when many trumpet soloists rely mainly on transcriptions of works originally composed for other instruments, it is hoped that these recordings may be a stimulus to revive original trumpet works which are difficult but altogether finely composed and well-suited to the instrument.”
All the composers on Sommerhalder’s generous 80-minute program are either German or Russian and, with the exception of Vladimir Peskin (1906–88), were all born in the period 1860–70. Except for Peskin’s concerto (1948), the compositions all date from 1899–1910. The strongest works are the two full-length, three-movement concertos by Peskin (the first of his three for the instrument) and Böhme, lasting about 20 minutes each. Peskin’s is in fact the best work on the program, with a first movement highly reminiscent of Glière or Glazunov and luxuriantly orchestrated à la Richard Strauss. The slow movement is profoundly lyrical in the best romantic vein, and the zippy finale brings to mind the high jinks of some of Khachaturian’s more exuberant pieces. This is definitely an option for soloists looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous Haydn and Hummel concertos.
The remaining works are far less attractive and hold little interest except as competition and conservatory recital material—all show and no substance, little more than successions of theatrical, clichéd gestures that could as effectively be executed by a clarinet, a violin, or a flute with no loss of individuality—arpeggios (especially those built on the diminished seventh chord), trills, melodic sequences, chromatic scales, all broken into bits and pieces separated by pregnant pauses.
Sommerhalder is obviously a highly competent player with technique to spare. His strongest suits are a well-developed sense of phrasing and deeply felt lyricism. On the other hand, his tone is a bit thin and there is too much vibrato for my taste. The two concertos are played on trumpet, the other works on cornet, though I hear little difference between the two instruments. The most serious problem I have with Sommerhalder’s playing is the lack of showmanship this music demands; everything is just a bit too proper and reserved. A wider range of color and especially of dynamics would have helped give these pieces some of the zest they so badly need.
This is certainly an important release for trumpet players, though probably only of marginal interest to others. There is much pleasure to be derived from the Peskin concerto, though its 19 minutes hardly justify purchase for this alone. The recorded sound is open and natural, the balance between soloist and orchestra ideal, and Sommerhalder’s own well-researched annotations informative and highly useful.