Jouko Harjanne / Kari Hänninen

The Great Trumpet Sonatas

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Eric Ewazen and James M. Stephenson III are both American composers whose works often show up on programs and recordings by ensembles connected with educational institutions in the U.S. This musical world has spawned a rich repertoire of solo instrumental music, and it must be gratifying, not only for these composers but for those concerned with the state of American concert music in general, to see such works as the trumpet sonatas by Ewazen and Stephenson gain prominence in a place as compositionally competitive as Finland, and to win a place on a program grandly titled The Great Trumpet Sonatas. What makes this rather ambitious claim work is not just the unusual lyricism of trumpeter Jouko Harjanne, the easy interplay between Harjanne and accompanist Kari Hänninen, the superb sound (so different from what you'd probably get on an American recording of this music), or even the quality of the individual works themselves. The program itself is the biggest strength, for it offers a nice European-American continuum with four works that are distinct yet animated by the same basic ideas. The placement at the beginning of Hindemith's Trumpet Sonata in B major, composed in Switzerland in 1939 as the European stage darkened, was a strong decision, for the work defines the principles according to which all four works operate: an allegiance to tonality, idiomatic instrumental writing, motivic work within a tonal sphere defined by intervals, often fourths, and highly melodic slow movements. The slow movement in Hindemith's case comes at the end, and each of the other works departs from one or more other aspects of the pattern, but the entire recital hangs together beautifully. The Ewazen and Stephenson works are, if not more progressive, at least more eclectic than Hindemith, while the most unusual work on the program, at least outside the German-speaking world -- the Trumpet Sonata of Austrian composer Karl Pilss -- is more conservative, but for once the music all seems cut from the same cloth rather than retreating into the cubes defined by "isms." An exemplary instrumental recital.

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