La Trompette Retrouvee - Jonathan Freeman-Attwood - IRR

I gave Jonathan Freeman-Attwood's last act of piracy­ - adaptations of Elgar, Strauss and Rheinberger for two trumpets and organ on Linn (reviewed in September 2004) - an enthusiastic welcome. This one's a little more problematic, the trouble lying in the nature of the instruments themselves. The trumpet needs a spacious acoustic where you can hear the sound carry (as with the organ on that earlier CD), but put a piano in a similar aural framework and it will sound too distant from the microphones. That's what happens here, the divergence emphasised by the vaulted interior of St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol: the varying colours and intensities of Freeman-Attwood's trumpet-playing leap readily to the ear, while Daniel-Ben Pienaar's vigorous pianism has to make do with second-cousin status.

By the same token, the advantage with a programme constructed along these lines is that the new cladding offers not so much a different take on familiar music as a completely new set of pieces. On modern trumpet and piano the eight-movement suite Pienaar has fashioned from Rameau's Naïs is brittle and bold, the segue into Hahn's À Chloris helped by the quotation of Bach's ‘G string' melody in the opening bars of the song (a clever bit of programming, that). Chabrier's piano output provided Pienaar with the makings of a four-movement suite which contains two of the most buoyantly happy items in all French music ­ the ‘Danse villageoise' and Scherzo-valse from the Dix Pièces pittoresques, perfectly suited to the trumpet - which contrast effectively with the two slower pieces which precede them. The third movement of Saint-Saëns's Second Cello Sonata, a long-melodied Romanza, hesitant, intimate and confessional in the original, becomes far more of a public statement here, its climaxes brasher on the trumpet than with the cello, where you sense it has truths that must be told. I have played this track and the closing account of Fauré¹s Second Violin Sonata repeatedly, in the hope that familiarity would remove the strangeness of these new incarnations, with only partial success. Freeman-Attwood contributes an intriguing defence of his appropriation of the Fauré, going into some detail about what he calls the ‘trumpet-iness' of the music - chiefly its ability to carry particular kinds of phrasing - but I am not yet reconciled to hearing the music cast in gestures far larger and grander than those of the cello or the violin.

Of course, by grafting this music into the trumpet repertoire Freeman-Attwood is linking it with the French trumpet tradition itself, best known in the playing of musicians such as Maurice André and Guy Touvron, who at home enjoy the kind of popularity, unsuspected outside France, that André Previn and James Galway enjoyed here at the height of their television careers a decade or two ago. Accordingly, Freeman-Attwood adopts the cornet-like tone of that tradition­ - bright, clean, precise­ - and delivers performances of narrative elegance devoid of any in-your-face brassiness. The sheer faithfulness of the recording to the acoustic does Pienaar no favours, as I say: you can hear how alertly and responsively he plays, but he is just that bit too far away for you to be able to concentrate on the detail of what he is doing. A curate's egg of a CD, then, since the curate readily admitted it is very good in parts. I'm certainly not one of those purists who object to the very idea of transcription (on the contrary: a good transcription can reveal things about the music that had escaped you beforehand), but I do wonder whether the Saint-Saëns and the Fauré were the best places to start expanding the trumpet repertoire­ and in this acoustic a harp might have offered a more suitable accompaniment.

International Record Review
01 June 2007