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"The Mystery of the Natural Trumpet"

Krisztián Kováts, trumpet
L'arpa festante
Dir: Christoph Hesse, Rien Voskuilen

rec: Jan 10 - 12 & Feb 6 - 7, 2017, Blaibach, Konzerthaus
CPO - 555 144-2 (© 2020) (66'57")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

?Johann Georg LANG (1722-1798): Concerto for trumpet, strings and bc in D; Johann OTTO (mid-18th C): Concerto for trumpet and orchestra in E flat; Joseph RIEPEL (1709-1782): Sinfonia per la Processione Solemni in C; Johann Matthias SPERGER (1750-1812): Concerto for trumpet and orchestra No. 1 in D; Concerto for trumpet and orchestra No. 2 in D; Johann Wenzel Anton STAMITZ (1717-1757): Concerto for trumpet, strings and bc in D

Peter Tabori, Johannes Knoll, oboe; Barbara Meditz, bassoon; Raphael Vosseler, Jonas Gessner, horn; Peter Hasel, Arne Thielemann, trumpet; Christoph Hesse, Angelika Balzer, Peter Haarmann-Thiemann, Judith Freise, Ruth Ellner, Johanna Weber, Georgia Höpfner, violin; Max Bock, Ursula Plagge-Zimmermann, viola; Anja Enderle, Gregor Anthony, cello; Haralt Martens, double bass; Rien Voskuilen, harpsichord; Martin Homann, timpani

One of the features of historical performance practice is the never-ending debate about aspects of interpretation and of the construction and playing of period instruments. The present disc offers a good example. Since many years, the French trumpet and horn player Jean-François Madeuf points out that the trumpets of the baroque era had no ventholes, and that most modern replicas are not 'historically correct'. He is a specialist in playing the natural trumpet without such ventholes, with quite spectacular results, as his own recordings demonstrate.

One of his students, Krisztián Kováts, has different ideas. That is to say, he does not question the existence of trumpets without ventholes in the baroque era, but he doubts whether this is the whole story. In his liner-notes he acknowledges that the surviving instruments with ventholes all date from the late 18th century. However, he points out that the literature suggests that such instruments were played at a much earlier time. He quotes Lorenz Christoph Mizler, pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach, who in his book Neu eröffnete musikalische Bibliothek of 1738 refers to "trumpets without holes and slides". "Since Mizler expressly uses the term 'without holes' (so in contrast to trumpets 'with holes'), we can surely assume that musicians of the time knew what options were available in expanding the tonal spectrum through the use of ventholes." He adds that the French music theorist Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) "also described in his renowned treatise Harmonie Universelle of 1636 that the trumpet should be built with ventholes." He concludes that "dogmatic statements in one direction or another should be made with great care". One thing is for sure, the last thing about this subject has not been said, and the debate will go on.

For the present recording, Kováts decided to use an instrument, built by Rainer Egger in Basel, which is claimed to be "as close as possible to the construction characteristics of historical models". It is based on an instrument preserved in the National Music Museum in South Dakota, USA, and has four ventholes. The pitch is a'=415 Hz. Kováts plays a programme of largely little-known pieces, whose solo parts are mostly quite challenging and explore the high register of the trumpet, known as clarino. It was the consistent increase of technical demands on trumpet players which led to the introduction of keys - the trumpet concerto by Haydn was conceived for such an instrument - and later the valve.

Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz is considered the father of the Mannheim School. His Concerto in D, however, is rooted in the style of the baroque era. It has been preserved without the name of an author, but on the basis of an inventory list, it has been concluded that the composer was someone with the name Stamitz, and as his sons Carl and Anton can be excluded on stylistic grounds, Johann must be the composer. The trumpet part goes as high as E6. The same is the case in the second of the two concertos by Johann Matthias Sperger, who was a professional double bass player, but surprisingly left quite a number of compositions for winds, especially divertimenti for wind ensemble (Feld-Parthien). These two concertos date from 1778 and 1779 respectively. Both comprise just two movements, which was quite common at the time. They include both cantabile episodes and fanfare motifs, the latter referring to the origins of the trumpet as a military instrument.

The two remaining concertos are problematic as far as the identity of the composer is concerned. A Concerto in D has been preserved as Concerto del Signor Laue. No composer of that name is known, and the name could probably also be read as Lang. Therefore it is attributed here to Johann Georg Lang, a composer of Bohemian birth, who worked for most of his life in Ehrenbreitstein near Koblenz. However, Kováts has serious doubts about this attribution: a catalogue of the music publisher Breitkopf includes horn concertos by a Signor Lau, about whom nothing is known. Considering that he apparently composed horn concertos, he seems the more likely candidate. In this concerto, which probably dates from around 1760, the solo part goes as high as F#6 and includes some fast runs with demisemiquavers (32nd notes) and even hemidemisemiquavers (64th notes).

E flat was a common key for trumpet concertos and other works with prominent trumpet parts (such as Bach's Magnificat). The Concerto in E flat has come down to us as a work by Signor Otto. As a set of parts of two symphonies by a certain Giovanni Otto has been found in a library in Wolfenbüttel, he may well be the composer of this concerto. "The solo voice often climbs to a written D6, which means a sounding F6, and beyond this it is peppered with technical challenges (...)". The slow movement includes long cantabile lines. Kováts calls this concerto one of the most difficult of the entire Baroque and Classical trumpet literature.

The disc is rounded off by a piece in which three trumpets participate. They play a prominent role, but the Sinfonia in C by Joseph Riepel is not a solo concerto, but rather a liturgical piece. It is one of four pieces used at the occasion of a solemn entrance of religious dignitaries into the church. Riepel wrote it during a stay in Poland between 1745 and 1749. He also wrote a trumpet concerto.

As one may have gathered by now, this is a highly intriguing disc. The repertoire is quite impressive, and one can easily understand why trumpet players were so much revered in the 18th century. 'Bach's trumpeter', Johann Gottfried Reiche, is the most famous example, but there must have been a considerable number of musicians who mastered the art of playing in the clarino range. Krisztián Kovátz deserves admiration too, for performing this virtuosic repertoire at such a convincing manner. Technically his playing is immaculate, and he manages to give the impression that it is just a piece of cake. I am also impressed by the way he adds cadenzas, some very virtuosic, but never exaggerated or overly long. They sound entirely natural. L'arpa festante delivers firm support and is the trustworthy partner Kováts needed.

In short, this is an exciting disc, which deserves a special recommendation.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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