Huw Morgan’s Programme Disappoints, but Not his Musicianship

17/10/2017

Ravel, Enescu, Williams, Arban: Huw Morgan (trumpet), Christopher Williams (piano), Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 13.10.2017. (GPu)

Ravel ‘Kaddish’ from Deux mélodies hébraiques
Enescu Légende
Christopher WilliamsMountains of Abstract Thought
Jean-Baptiste Arban Fantasie Brillante

The trumpeter Huw Morgan, born in South Wales in 1987, is a multiple prize-winner in competitions around the world – not least at the Prague Spring International Trumpet Competition in 2016. He is principal trumpet of the Sinfonieorchester Basel, as well as being a member of Septura. He has given concerto performances in many of Europe’s major concert halls. As such a CV evidences that his technique and his musicianship are of the highest order, which I know from hearing him live on a couple of earlier occasions.

His ability was everywhere evident in this lunchtime concert, given ahead of taking a class with students of the Royal Welsh College; but I have to confess that I found parts of his programme rather unexciting and not really worthy of his talents. The repertoire of pieces specifically written for trumpet and piano is not, admittedly, very extensive, but there are, after all, such works as Hindemith’s fine Sonata for Trumpet, and other interesting works such as Martinů’s Sonatina for Trumpet and Piano, Antheil’s Trumpet Sonata and the Andante and Allegro by Guy Ropartz. It would have been a treat to hear any of these – and, in the case of all but the Hindemith, a rare treat.

Of the pieces Morgan did play, accompanied by Christopher Williams of the RWCMD, the most completely rewarding was Enescu’s Légende, written for trumpet and piano in 1906. I have yet to hear a work by Enescu that didn’t make for fascinating listening. Légende moves through several moods – markings in the score include doux, grave, pathétique, gracieux, agité and rêveur all of which Morgan and Williams articulated eloquently. Enescu gives the pianist some interesting music of his own, especially late on in the piece, and Christopher Williams was impressive in these passages, as well as in his work as accompanist. Morgan’s use of the mute was particularly effective in Légende.

Ravel’s ‘Kaddish’, though originally written for voice and piano, works well as a piece for trumpet and piano. (There are successful versions for violin and piano and cello and piano too.) The vocal line’s indebtedness to the chanting of cantors in the synagogue ensures that it is well-suited to the quasi-vocal qualities of the trumpet, and Morgan’s interpretation had both great dignity and considerable emotional power.

I didn’t, I’m afraid, find very much to excite me in Christopher Williams’ Mountains of Abstract Thought. I am still unable to see any clear connection between the title and the music of this piece. (The title sounds to me like the experience of reading French literary theorist!) The piece traverses a range of moods, but the landscape along the way is not especially remarkable, save for an unaccompanied cadenza for trumpet towards the end of its ten or so minutes, which is followed by some rapid interplay between the two instruments, before a coda which reminds us of the piece’s opening. Perhaps a second or third hearing would reveal things I was too imperceptive to recognize on this first hearing? I would like the opportunity to hear it again.

I would be glad, however, to be spared any further hearings of Arban’s Fantasie Brillante. Jean-Baptiste Arban was a ‘star’ cornetist, a conductor and a teacher who has been described as the founder of modern trumpet playing. He wrote a good number of fantasies based on the operas of Verdi. (A collection has recently been recorded by Angelo Cavallo and Michele Fontana on DYNAMIC CDS7784.) My acquaintance with Arban’s music is far from complete, but such works as I have heard are, for the most part, pretty dull stuff, which may have gone down well in a late nineteenth-century salon, but are not likely to win too many admirers in the modern concert hall, I suspect. The Fantasie Brillante is generally pretty staid harmonically, and uninspired melodically. It only really comes alive in some rapid runs for the trumpet, which require some adroit fingering and good breath control from the soloist. To tell the truth, I was rather bored by it before it had run its ten-minute course.

The piece by Arban ended the recital – save for a sweet melody by Reynaldo Hahn played by way of encore. The recital had begun with Huw Morgan’s arrangement for trumpet and piano of one of Bach’s Harpsichord concertos. Sadly, however, a badly delayed train – a journey scheduled for 50 minutes took over two hours! – meant that I missed the first item on the programme. Had I heard it, I might perhaps have been less disappointed by the musical thinness of the programme. I didn’t, though, need to hear it to have my admiration for Morgan’s skills as a trumpeter to be confirmed.

Glyn Pursglove

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