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Bruno Siketa and Rhys Boak

Move Records MD 3379

Trumpet and Organ

Another addition to the impressive number of collaborative recordings on the Move label, this trumpet-and-organ effort offers a wide mix, ranging from Bach without frills to arrangements that are packed with incident.   The playing involves two organs: the Hill/Fincham instrument in St. Michael’s Uniting Church on Collins Street where Boak is the resident performer, and one in ‘Collingwood Castle’ where the Radixon Group has its Islington Street headquarters and which, despite assiduous searching, retains its mysteries as a privately-owned construct.

The Collingwood organ is used for duets exclusively while the artists also perform four works at the city church, which is where Boak chose to record his solos.   An early indication of the hybrid nature of the material on offer comes in the first track, an arrangement by both musicians of the Albinoni Adagio in G minor, now known to have been written by Remo Giazotto – not the first ghostwriter to take a leaf out of the Kreisler creative-abnegation handbook.    As expected with this slow-moving dirge, there are a few notes where tuning is not spot-on.   Less importantly, you can’t avoid feeling that the chord-supported cadenza-like passages for the trumpet  come straight from a spaghetti western – the spirit of Morricone putting in an unanticipated appearance.

Telemann’s Heroic Marches, La Generosite and La Grace, fare better, although in the first Siketa’s low Gs close to the start are questionable; the second piece’s slow D Major stateliness works much better for both players as a whole.

Boak’s first solo is Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which is now ascribed to one of the composer’s students or friends; exactly which one is the problem.    This reading is unexceptional, with no Ton Koopman-style surprises in ornamentation or registration; only one unexpected pause for what could be a change of manual in mid-fugue disrupts the regular rhythmic underpinning of the work’s second part up to the ducks-and-drakes games at the Recitativo.   Later in the CD, the Little Fugue in G minor is handled with similar directness of utterance in the warm St. Michael’s acoustic.   During Edwin Lemare‘s transcription of the Pilgrims’ Chorus from Wagner’s Tannhauser, Boak shows a controlled flamboyance, the work’s inexorable progress handled with musicianship so that the decorative violin patterns that accompany the chorale in its stentorian climactic form remain in their place.   Guilmant‘s 1861 March on a theme by Handel is treated sensibly as a long crescendo, starting off with a theme outline in unusually reserved manner, gaining headway in the middle fugue and exerting plenty of sonorous muscle in the final grandiose pages.

Siketa gives to Alan Hovhaness‘s A Prayer f St. Gregory a calm delineation, which is the best approach possible with a work that is meant to depict a holy man’s spiritual and physical crisis expressed in semi-modal language that takes the listener nowhere.   Piazzolla’s Ave Maria was written for a film version of Pirandello’s Enrico IV, originally scored for oboe and piano; Siketa produces an attractive line but the piece itself is nondescript, a meander that indicates a mental break between its devotional re-naming and its original purpose.

The Romance from Shostakovich’s score to Aleksandr Fajntsimmer’s film The Gadfly sees the players in Collingwood and the tuning for the piece’s first pages is still not quite right, although matters improve by the reprise.   Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, another favourite Russian lollipop, enjoys more success and the arrangement by Boak, moving down a semitone from the original C sharp, uses the organ to good effect, although its dynamic pays over-deferential courtesy to the brass melody line which remains very prominent. The pair end their suburban bracket with the Ave Maria attributed to Caccini (how?) but composed by Vladimir Vavilov; as in every other version you hear of this piece, the executants never come close to being challenged.

The final trumpet+organ works are unabashed showpieces.  Jean-Baptiste Arban‘s Theme et variations sur ‘Norma’ holds some preparatory and fill-in work for the accompanist but its only interest is the trumpet’s virtuosity.   Siketa begins with a straightforward outline of Bellini’s Casta diva aria  –  well, the first part of it  –  complete with a cadenza at the end. The first variation is a bouncy march distinctive for a bit of quick action at its conclusion. Variation 2 continues in the same metre but with continuous semiquavers; not jerking the player around but testing his evenness of enunciation.   Matters ratchet up in Variation 3 where the action moves to triplets – really sextuplets – and the player is hard pressed; Siketa manages this very competently – I heard only one near-dropped note at bar 100.   A piu lento is the deceptive lead-in to the last section which features a gradual acceleration leading to a brilliantly definite conclusion.   In the excitement, the synchronicity between the players put Siketa under stress; at points like bar 135 where he had to draw breath, there was a danger of his being left behind by his inexorable escort in the race to the piece’s final post.

The other showpiece is better known as a violin encore: Monti’s Csardas; this appears to be the work’s first re-positioning for trumpet and organ.   It’s a brave effort but perhaps the unspoken request to ignore the original is impractical.   Triple- and double-stops are impossible to accomplish, as is the Meno quasi lento segment in harmonics which is taken over by Boak; any spicy acciacaturas are too difficult to negotiate in this context.   Still, the interpretation goes some way to catching the original’s faux-Gypsy spirit and there are precious few flaws, the most notable a missed note eight bars before the final A tempo/piu presto gallop.

I think that the motive underpinning this recording is more entertainment value than repertoire expansion, although it does accomplish that end with six of the tracks being arrangements by Boak.   The content jumps around – from familiar Bach and Telemann to Hovhaness of 1946 and a 1984 piece by Piazzolla, the most modern of the 14 works presented.    It will interest trumpeters, I suspect, and admirers of both Melbourne musicians involved  –  and those with a taste for that noble, vital sound-world so desired by wedding organists who have to make do with their trumpet stops: a poor substitute for the real thing, as this CD demonstrates.

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