After the interior ruminations of Chris Gekker’s Moon Marked disc (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), here is a disc that showcases the more familiar aspect of the trumpet: bright, ballsy, virtuoso, glistening. The Moderato indicator for the first movement of James Stephenson’s Concerto for Hope belies an active surface (plenty of notes for the soloist, here the indefatigable Andrew Stetson); but moments of happiness are underpinned by a sense of foreboding. When one reads that the concerto is a commission from trumpeter Ryan Anthony, who has battled multiple myeloma, it starts to fall into place, the feeling that all might not be bright and shiny forever. The central Adagio carries a plaintive line, a portrayal of disbelief and sadness, climaxing in something of an Urschrei from the soloist—certainly, at the very least, a true cry from the heart. The final movement is designated as “Speranza” (hope) and culminates in the use of piccolo trumpet in the shiny key of G Major. It is all quite the journey, and really quite a musical exploration of emotional states for Stephenson to take on. He does so brilliantly and triumphantly, and in Andrew Stetson he has the ideal interpreter, by turns glisteningly virtuosic and emotionally raw. I described an all-Stephenson disc on Cedille as “something of a must-have” in Fanfare 42:1; the present work is a valuable addition to the Stephenson discography.
Dedicated to the present performers, Mark Hagerty’s None of the Above takes the idea of questionnaires in examinations and questionnaires while rejecting such restrictive modes. The title, then, is one of the options often seen in such multiple choice arrays (it is also the title of the first movement, balanced by the finale’s “All of the Above,” and with “B, C or D” and “Other (explain)” as the other movement titles). It is but a short step to take the options B, C, and D and migrate the letters to pitch classes, as Hagerty does here; most interesting musically, though, is the third movement, “Other (explain),” which mixes fauxbourdon with the octatonic scale, while the final “All of the Above” has a pronounced bluesy feel to it.
The composer Justin Casinghino, a pupil of both Foss and Schuller, is credited with the electronics in …And So Then I Threw the Stone, depicting those moments of decision-making and with a title that also refers to the Biblical myth of David and Goliath. Real-time manipulations of the source sounds also imply ripples after the stone has been thrown. It works beautifully, requiring a solid technique (a split note would go a long way here); Stetson delivers the goods. Fairly obviously, headphones work particularly well for this piece, its multiple fanfare references entirely apt to the manner of composition here. This is presented here in a two-track stereo mix. This appears to be the first piece by Casinghino (b. 1978) reviewed by Fanfare (there are no references in the Fanfare Archive); I hope it will not be the last.
Finally, there comes Michael Mikulka’s Concerto for Trumpet and Wind Ensemble and a return to Texas Tech University, but to the symphonic band this time, not the orchestra. This is a short (12-minute) extravaganza. The sheer vim of the first movement enables Stetson’s natural effervescence to shine through; even when the music turns cantabile, there are cheeky comments to be had from the accompanying band. Marked “Languid, luxurious, molto rubato,” the slow movement is a moment of pure repose, again blues-influenced, this time near-horizontal in its laid-back demeanor. Stetson’s lines are deliciously quasi-improvised. Although the booklet notes reference Gershwin as regards the second movement, I personally hear just as much of that composer in the deliciously unbuttoned finale (it is as if An American in Paris hovers somewhere in the background).
All four works are world premiere recordings, all set down in fine sound that captures the purity of Stetson’s sound as well as each and every 16th, 32nd, or 64th note of his brilliance. There is a lot of fun here, too. Recommended.