Wynton Marsalis Plays Cornet Showpieces
Wynton Marsalis’s latest demonstration of classical virtuosity is a revival of showpieces written by, and for, the cornetists who led bands at the turn of the century. The conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, Donald Hunsberger, researched and arranged that music for Mr. Marsalis’s latest album, ‘‘Carnaval,’‘ and Mr. Marsalis, playing cornet, rejoined Mr. Hunsberger and the band Sunday at Carnegie Hall for a solemn sort of pops concert.
Pieces like Jean-Baptiste Arban’s ‘‘Variations on the Carnival of Venice’‘ and ‘‘Fantasia Brillante,’‘ Jules Levy’s ‘‘Grand Russian Fantasie’‘ and Mr. Hunsberger’s arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘‘Flight of the Bumblebee’‘ aim for cheap thrills. Band interludes simply punctuate musical gymnastics for the cornetist, who scurries through scales, tosses off arpeggios and spits out faster and faster passagework, usually culminating in a fusillade of sextuplets -five ornamental notes for each one of the melody.
Mr. Marsalis has a warm, burnished cornet tone, and he could spit out those sextuplets smoothly and evenly. But he made a mistake by bringing the long-breathed, understated approach of his jazz solos to Arban and Levy. Showing off ought to sound like it; by bringing out the melodies, Mr. Marsalis lost the thrill factor.
He was better in ballads – ‘‘The Last Rose of Summer,’‘ played straight, and ‘‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,’‘ in which he allowed himself jazz shadings and a cadenza that nodded to Dizzy Gillespie, who was in the audience. The spiritual aside, however, Mr. Marsalis is wasting his talents on such a trivial repertory.
Mr. Hunsberger also conducted the band on its own in British music – Sir William Walton’s coronation march ‘‘Orb and Sceptre,’‘ Percy Grainger’s ‘‘Lads of Wamphray’‘ and Gustav Holst’s Second Suite (played by a reduced band) – with brisk tempos and gleaming, well-balanced ensembles. He also led Joseph Schwantner’s 1977 Eastman commission, ‘’. . . And the Mountains Rising Nowhere,’‘ which juxtaposes metallic percussion sounds, eerie sustained tones from winds and water glasses, tinkling piano tone clusters and stentorian passages for deep brass, adding up to surge after surge of carefully paced drama.