> Fantasy Trumpet John Wallace [CT]: Classical Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Fantasiestücke, op. 73
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Clarinet Sonatas: no. 1 in f, op. 120/1, no. 2 in E flat, op. 120/2
John Wallace (trumpet), Simon Wright (pianoforte)
Rec. 24-26.9.1999 at The Maltings, Snape, Suffolk, UK
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Instrumental colour was not always the first of Brahmsís preoccupations but late in life he was so captivated by Richard Mühlfeldís playing as to write these two clarinet sonatas plus the Trio for clarinet, cello and piano and the Quintet for clarinet and strings. It would be difficult to imagine music more deeply born of the most intimate nature of the instrument and though he consented to the publication of a version for viola he considered it "awkward and unenjoyable".

On the face of it a performance on the trumpet should be even more awkward and hideously unenjoyable. When I saw the disc my heart recoiled at such madness. But then, if you can play the trumpet as well as John Wallace can, and not a single romantic composer of even minor stature ever wrote a piece for your instrument, then why not give it a try?

If you listen to the opening of the second sonata you will be reassured. The trumpet in its middle-upper register can, at least in Wallaceís hands, produce a tone of liquid loveliness to match the clarinetís own, and lacks nothing in agility. Since Wallace and Wright also phrase with great understanding, choose good tempi (though I thought the Sostenuto section of the second sonataís Allegro appassionato a bit on the slow side) and are beautifully recorded, this is far more pleasurable than many a mediocre version on the "right" instrument. I should point out that these are not "transcriptions" Ė Wallace plays every note of the clarinet part exactly as it is written.

However, there seem to me two, maybe three, drawbacks. One is that while, as I have said, the trumpet can produce its own valid alternative to the clarinetís gloriously singing middle-upper register, below middle C, where the clarinet goes into its wonderful chalumeau register, the trumpet has nothing comparable and even Wallace cannot entirely avoid thoughts of foghorns and factory sirens, albeit of a very musical variety.

The second is that the trumpet cannot fine down its tone while accompanying the piano, at least not to the same extent. Since Brahmsís writing is very democratic, examples of this abound, but take the last page of the first movement of no. 2 and you will have a perfect illustration of where these performances work and where they donít. The high songful writing marked molto dolce sempre yields nothing to the clarinet in beauty, but when the piano takes up the melody, at the tranquillo section, the trumpetís triplets are too present; the piano line can hardly be heard. Or when, in bars 41-3 of the Andante un poco Adagio of the first sonata, the trumpet takes up the pianoís rocking motif, the effect is that of a distant fanfare, it stands out from the piano texture too much. Similarly in the Allegretto grazioso of this same sonata, all is well when the trumpet has the tune, but when the piano has it, it is obscured by the trumpetís quavers. The recording appears to be naturally balanced, so this may be one of the hazards of the operation. However, I get the impression that Wright is scrupulously observing Brahmsís dynamics, as if he were accompanying a clarinet. Perhaps he should have marked them up a bit. Or, failing that, the engineers might have helped out.

The third drawback may just be my own personal problem. Even in its most singing register, even with John Wallace to play it, the trumpet just does not seem to bring a lump to my throat as the best clarinettists can Ė and here I would like to repeat my praise for the classic Harold Wright/Peter Serkin recording (BR1005CD), which also has the Schumann Fantasy Pieces.

Regarding these, since Schumann writes practically exclusively for the middle-upper register of the instrument and leaves the piano in an accompanying role, the two drawbacks I have discussed above do not apply here. I completely enjoyed these pieces and could happily hear them as an alternative to the clarinet version.

In the last resort this is to be classed as a daring exploit, though a far more successful one than might have been imagined. One final word: if youíre a trumpeter, but not such a good one as John Wallace (and very, very few are), donít have a go. The ultimate proof that this is really clarinet music is that any clarinettist with a passable technique and a fair dose of musicality can produce performances of these works which can be enjoyed. To produce an enjoyable performance of them on the trumpet is possible only for the elect.

Christopher Howell

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