November 03, 2022


Music for Trumpet Solo, Trumpet and Chamber Ensemble, and Trumpet and Orchestra. Charles Schlueter, trumpet. MSR Classics. $29.95 (3 CDs).

     The inherent celebratory nature of a retrospective look at a performer’s career often results in more attention being paid to the quality of the musician than to the quality of the music. That is, a “looking back at performing life” release can all too easily fall into hagiography – to which such releases are, unsurprisingly, always prone – based more on how someone plays than on what he or she plays.

     However, there are times when the combination of performance skill and chosen repertoire turns out to be a happy one when looking back at a musician’s career. And that is, by and large, the situation with a three-CD MSR Classics release focusing on the four-decade trumpet career of Charles Schlueter (born 1939). Schlueter has a remarkable biography, having been principal trumpet with the Kansas City Philharmonic, Milwaukee Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, and Boston Symphony. Obviously numerous conductors and music directors heard something very special in Schlueter’s playing – and this release does a fine job of showing what that “something” was. It soon becomes apparent that it was actually multiple “somethings,” ranging from fluidity of tone to excellence of phrasing, warmth of sound production, and really exceptional breath control – in some of the pieces on this release, it is hard not to wonder how Schlueter manages to breathe at all while delivering very lengthy passages.

     It is true and probably inevitable that not everything on the recording is of equal interest, but there is enough substantial and substantive music here to show Schlueter’s sensitivity of communication and ability to delve effectively into material of the Romantic era and beyond. Actually, the failure to include any older music is the one major disappointment in this otherwise excellent release: the trumpet has a much longer history than a listener would recognize from this material. Still, within its chosen time period, the recording shows both the music and the performer in the best possible light. The first disc focuses on solo trumpet and trumpet with piano, including Intrada for Solo Trumpet in C (1958) by Otto Ketting (1935-2012); Intrada for Trumpet and Piano (1947) by Arthur Honegger (1892-1955); a sonata for trumpet and piano from 1944 by Jean Hubeau (1917-1992) and another, from 1987, by Robert Suderburg (1938-2013); Marsha’s Gift for trumpet and piano (2005) by Norman Bolter (born 1955); A Song from the Heart for trumpet and piano (2007) by Eric Ewazen (born 1954); and Duo Concerto for Trumpet and Organ (1997) by Tomáš Svoboda (born1939). Nothing here is major music, but individual elements are attractive, such as the short Intermède in the piece by Hubeau, the deliberately distracting Procession that concludes Suderburg’s work, and the sweet sounds of Ewazen’s songfulness.

     The second CD features chamber music, and there is some overlap with the first disc. The pieces here are a sonata from 1958 by Yves Chardon (1902-2000); Ceremonies for trumpet and piano (1984) by Suderburg; a trumpet-and-piano sonata from 1939 by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963); Fanfare for a New Theater (1964) by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971);  a sonata for horn, trumpet and trombone (1922/1945) by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), plus Poulenc’s brief Ave Verum Corpus (1952); Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury for three trumpets (1959) by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976); and the Septet for trumpet, string quintet and piano (1879-80) by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). The dates of the composers clearly show Schlueter’s predilections when it comes to music for his instrument – and while it is wonderful to have a bit of Poulenc, Stravinsky, Britten and Saint-Saëns here (especially the very interesting Poulenc and highly engaging Saint-Saëns), it is a touch disconcerting to realize that Suderburg, scarcely a major composer, is represented twice. The tiny Stravinsky fanfare (lasting less than a minute) and the longer one by Britten certainly give Schlueter the opportunity to display differing and equally interesting elements of trumpet sound and technique, and the Saint-Saëns Septet is as charmingly old-fashioned as always (even neo-Baroque, unintentionally raising again the question of why no actual Baroque music is heard here).

     The third CD includes six works for trumpet with orchestra or wind ensemble: the ubiquitous and always delightful concerto (1803)  by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), its finale here a bit more restrained that ideally it should be; Prayer of Saint Gregory (1946) by Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000); Odyssey (1997) by Ruth Lomon (1930-2017); On the Cusp (1999) by Norman Bolter (born 1955); Duo Fantastique for two trumpets (2007) by James Stephenson (born 1969); and Statements (2010) by Albert Tiberio (born 1935). The Lomon, Bolter, and Tiberio works are world première recordings, establishing Schlueter’s bona fides as regards a commitment to contemporary music. The exuberant Stephenson piece is the highlight of this latter portion of the third disc, although the generally upbeat Tiberio work – especially in the contrast between its fourth-movement Cantilena and fifth-and-last-movement Bravura – is a tour de force that justifies its placement as the conclusion of a “tribute” release that very effectively shows just how fine a player Schlueter was throughout his many years of leading the trumpets at a wide variety of very fine orchestras.

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