Contemporary English Trumpet Concertos
No British composition of the past five years is more deserving of two simultaneously-issued recordings than Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's Trumpet Concerto. To an even greater extent than his earlier concertos it fills its generous length with an absorbing elaboration of diverser ideas, some brazenly bold, others affectingly simple. No doubt the nature of the trumpet itself helps to ensure that this is so, and Davies has written a solo part that is not only brilliant—and brilliantly effective—but that strikes sparks off an imposing orchestral contribution.
Davies wrote the Concerto for John Wallace, and their performance on Collins Classics must have strong claims to definitiveness. The main difference between it and the Hardenberger/Howarth version on Philips are in the sound of the solo instrument and the way it is recorded. Hardenberger is more forwardly placed, and his bright tone, often with a pronounced vibrato, is very different from Wallace's less assertive but more varied, and—in such crucial moments as the finale's cadenza—more dynamically subtle approach. The extra degree of dramatic weight in the Wallace/Davies performance owes much to a balance that never separates soloist from orchestra. Hardenberger is very much the star performer with attentive accompaniment, though it would be wrong to imply that the stature of the work is seriously reduced as a result.
The other compositions on the discs serve to underline the contrasts between them. Hardenberger plays two pieces written expressly for him, and they could hardly be more different. Michael Blake Watkins has what still counts as a relatively traditional style, his skill as a deviser of substantial structures offset by a lack of memorable ideas. Sir Harrison Birtwistle makes his soloist speak with many more voices, and Endless Parade (1987) is an exhilarating kaleidoscope of images ranging from the comic and parodic to the menacing and mysterious. Though less elaborately wrought than Birtwistle's major works of the 1980s, it is a typically powerful and particularly approachable example of his art, magnificently performed and recorded here.
The Collins Classics disc complements Davies's Trumpet Concerto with its immediate large-scale successor, the Symphony No. 4. This is quite different in atmosphere from the assured rhetoric of the Concerto, partly because it is scored for chamber orchestra, with a relatively restricted range of colour, and also because (as Davies has explained in an interview) it is so consistently concerned with contradicting as well as creating expectations. The composer has described the symphony as ''feeling its way'', but it does so with remarkable technical resourcefulness, and this efficiently-recorded performance is appropriately intense. For serious students of contemporary music, the juxtaposition of two such different examples of Davies's unique blend of intellect and emotion is an especially rewarding experience.