Contemporary Trumpet Music
The most striking aspect of the trumpet's extraordinary renaissance in the last 40 years is the extent to which composers' imaginations have been fired by the instrument's new-found dexterity and tonal pliancy. Or rather how a tradition of virtuosos have taken the challenge to the likes of Jolivet, Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle, Henze and Berio. As the works on this disc exemplify, the trumpet is a broad-ranging rhetorical tool ideally equipped to convey modern resonances in diverse circumstances. Graham Ashton is one of a number of current soloists who have sought important collaborations with living composers (Hakan Hardenberger and John Wallace instantly spring to mind). His programme is a delicately poised expose of seasoned 'moderns' that have passed the test of time and pieces at the frontier of the blurred world between classical and film idioms. The earliest work is the tautly constructed Sonata which Maxwell Davies wrote for Elgar Howarth in 1955. This remains a fiendishly difficult work for both trumpet and piano though Ashton and Lenehan are clearly thinking beyond technical anxieties. This performance glistens with cleanly tongued leaps, a subdued eloquence of fleeting lyricism and delicate Webernesque colour dabs which dovetail the second and third movements. Perhaps the epic close is a touch reticent but this is highly accomplished playing.
Even harder is the Jolivet Heptade for trumpet and percussion. I first heard this piece on an Erato recording, also containing the Concertino and Second Trumpet Concerto, played by their dedicatee, Maurice Andre (6/72—nla), and thought it then a wonderfully recherche piece of chamber music. Ashton and his one-man show in Gregory Knowles make pretty light work of it, the trumpet darting in and out of a nimble ensemble of untuned drums, tam-tam, Chinese blocks and a whistle. Ashton's ability to hover softly, both here and in the Berio Sequenza, is one of his great qualities; he clearly understands that restraint is a key element and foil to the epic effect of a soaring forte—especially one which can sound so intense in his hands. I enjoyed the Fenton the most out of the 'crossover' pieces, this time with the solo trumpet pitted against a sub-continental jive of piano and marimba. Ashton, throughout this significant enterprise, shows himself to be an acutely thoughtful musician: virtuosity is never regarded as an end in itself, the sound never brazen and he conveys an unswerving clarity of vision which should be admired beyond the confines of the brass world among the contemporary mainstream.'