Voices of Trumpets and Organ. TORELLI: Sinfonia con Tromba*. HOVHANESS: Prayer of Saint Gregory*. H. L. SCHILLING: Canzona*. PINKHAM: The Other Voices of the Trumpet*. LANGLAIS: Two Chorale Preludes*. Sonatine for Trumpet^. GERVAIS: Dances*^. VALENTE: Lo Ballo del'Intorcia*^. TOMASI: Semaine sainte à Cüzco*. PLOG: Fanfare for Two Trumpets*^. MANFREDINI: Concerto in D for Two Trumpets and Organ*^.
*Byron Pearson & ^Donald R. Tilson (trumpets); Arthur Vidrich (organ).
Crystal Records CD661 TT: 71:22.

Fun. Crystal Records for years has been one of the more interesting small labels around. They seem to showcase musicians and composers based on the West Coast, although that's not hard-and-fast, certainly not here. I think of them as mainly a recital label, even though they do other things as well.

Trumpeters Pearson and Tilson share very similar backgrounds and careers -- schools, teachers, orchestras, and orchestra posts. Either they've been mostly joined at the hip or Arthur Vidrich, the organist, has been blind since at least childhood. Apparently he learns music, one hand on a manual, while the other scans a Braille score. His musical memory must be prodigious.

Of course, the combination has not led to a lot of repertoire, and a lot of that amounts to music for use in church and court or direct, unpretentious wit, especially by composers of the Baroque period. Hovhaness's Prayer of Saint Gregory runs counter to any of this. The composer (one of the least theatrically dramatic ever, incidentally) wrote it as an interlude in his "visionary" opera Etchmiadzin, as far as I know never produced on stage. It has at least never emerged from oblivion. The interlude, however, has escaped that fate and has received a number of recordings. Originally for trumpet and orchestra, Hovhaness arranged the work for trumpet and organ, where it has become a staple as an instrumental "offering" during church Communion. It typifies much of Hovhaness's concerted work for melody instruments: the ensemble plays unexpected, "mystical" chords as the trumpet soars above with a relatively florid line.

Hans Ludwig Schilling's Canzona sounds like the music of his teacher Paul Hindemith. It varies the chorale "Christ ist erstanden" (Christ is arisen) and has a grave beauty. Jean Langlais, another in a long line of fine blind organists, was the organist at Paris's Ste.-Clothilde, whose best-known occupant of the organist's bench was César Franck. He wrote over 250 works, mainly contributing some of the most significant organ works of his time, particularly of the French School. The two preludes are based on the chorales "Aus tiefer Not" (from deepest woe) and Martin Luther's mega-hit "Ein feste Burg" (a mighty fortress). You can make a case for a similarity of philosophical outlook with Olivier Messiaen, although the latter was more a musical revolutionary and of greater historical influence. Without leaving for the musical and rhythmic fringes, Langlais shares Messiaen's particularly Catholic intensity, especially in "Aus tiefer Not." "Ein feste Burg" reminds me of an athlete in spectacularly good shape, as does the trumpet sonatine, along with the Hovhaness the most substantial work on the program.

Daniel Pinkham studied with Walter Piston, among others. He has a large output over a wide range of genres but received most attention for his church music. I find him uneven. The vigorous and direct stands side-by-side with the nothing much. The Other Voices of the Trumpet incorporates an electronic tape part, for no good reason, into the trumpet/organ ensemble. I should mention that at the time of its composition, the early Seventies, many composers experimented with the interaction between tape and humans. Sometimes, as in Leslie Bassett, for example, it worked. To me, the score doesn't amount to more than a bunch of notes.

Listeners may know already some of the Renaissance composer Claude Gervais dances through Poulenc's re-imaginings of them in his Suite française. Delicious as that score is, Gervais delights all on his own.

CD collectors probably know the French Henri Tomasi for his modest concerti for trumpet and trombone, as well as sax. Semaine sainte à Cüzco (holy week at Cüzco) tries to imaginatively connect the Christian Holy Week celebration with the ancient rites of the Incas, who set the empire's capita at Cüzco. We get the fanfare of trumpets over the town band during the Easter processions as well as dim Jungian memories from the cultural subconscious of long-gone times.

Trumpeter and composer Anthony Plog has earned more recognition than he gets. His fanfare has the trumpets synching and breaking up at lightning speed. Though brief, it thoroughly tests the performers.

Frankly, I find little difference between Pearson or Tilson as players. They're both excellent, but they sound as if stamped from the same mold. If the separation of the brass into left speaker and right weren't so extreme, I couldn't determine when or even if they swapped phrases. Sometimes, as in the Manfredini or some of the Gervais, they seem a hair out of synch. Perhaps they stood apart at a significant physical distance from one another. At others, as in the Valente and especially the Plog, their rhythmic precision scares me, it's so exact. Overall, I enjoyed this disc. I highly recommend it for Christmas (because brass goes down so well during the season) and other recreational listening.

S.G.S. (February 2013)