Five stars for Wynton Marsalis’s dazzlingTrumpet Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra

With Simon Rattle having departed and plans for a new concert hall in the City of London long shelved, the London Symphony Orchestra could be forgiven for feeling down in the dumps. Instead, the announcement of its 2024-25 season showed all the signs of an organisation powering forwards.

This will be the first season with Antonio Pappano as chief conductor. The line-up of concerts is impressive, not least because Pappano himself will be conducting a high proportion of them. But the announcement also included a new endowment for the young composers’ scheme and a proposed redevelopment of the orchestra’s home at LSO St Luke’s on the fringes of the City.

English music is to the fore in Pappano’s plans next season, but for this latest concert, as chief conductor designate, he had other priorities. The main work was the new Trumpet Concerto, given its premiere last year in Cleveland, by Wynton Marsalis, star jazz trumpeter in his own right — though not here at the Barbican, as the soloist was Alison Balsom.

Marsalis already has four flamboyant symphonies to his name and his new concerto is in much the same vein. The ideas tumble forth, bold and brassy, starting out with the soloist trumpeting like an elephant and taking in a Spanish bolero, an eastern European two-step, a waltz and much, much more.

The effect is dazzling and exhausting at the same time, like being caught on an out-of-control carousel at a funfair, watching bright lights flash past at dizzying speed. The downside is that it is hard to grasp why one passage of music should follow another or why this or that eye-catching orchestral effect is whisked away before it can make an impact. (With such a surfeit of ideas, maybe Marsalis could auction some off to other composers who do not have many of their own.)

The solo part reads like a textbook of every virtuoso trumpet exercise crammed into just over half an hour and Balsom duly shone in it. This exuberant concerto will be back in the UK when it gets a further performance at this summer’s Edinburgh Festival.

From Marsalis’s throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-it orchestral writing to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé was not such a big step. Pappano and the LSO performed the complete ballet with a high quality of playing that suggested rehearsal time had been generous. This was Pappano at full throttle, as if he was in the Royal Opera House, full-blooded and exciting. Who would have thought that hiring a professional choir like Tenebrae to sing the “oohs” and “aahs” in this piece would make such an effect? But it really did.

by Richard Fairman
Source: Financial Times

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