Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Unusual concertos 81-90: From piccolo trumpet to mezzo soprano

The concerto for solo instrument(s) and orchestra is one of the most popular genres in classical music. However, I think 95+ % of all concertos have been composed for piano or violin. Previously I have run a series on concertos for less common instruments in this blog, reaching an amazing number of 100 in the end (all these posts were reset to draft end March). I will be summarizing these in ten posts in the course of the year, each covering ten unusual concertos, keeping the sequences the same as in the past.

[81] Piccolo trumpet. This is the smallest instrument in the trumpet family, pitched a full octave higher than  the normal trumpet. Perhaps best known for its use by the Beatles in Penny Lane and All you need is love, I stumbled upon a concerto for this instrument by Slovak composer Juraj Filas. On YouTube a version is available by Otto Sauter and the U.A.N.L. Symphony Orchestra under Raul Gutierrez (parts 1 and 2).

[82] Zhongruan. This is a Chinese plucked string instrument, which has been likened to the Western lute and guitar. Contemporary Chinese composers apply it occasionally, and there is at least one (recorded) concerto for it, by Liu Xing, who plays the instrument on a rare CD with the Voronezh State Symphony Orchestra under Mak Ka-Lok.

[83] Beatboxer. Nicknamed the human percussionist, the beatboxer moved from the hiphop culture straight into classical music when Anna Meredith composed a concerto for this unlikely "instrument". No recording yet that I am aware of, but the YouTube link provides more background information.

[84] String quartet. This is the third in the series to deal with a larger group of players rather than a single instrument. The string quartet (two violins, viola, cello) is generally seen as the most beautiful combination of instruments for chamber music. Several composers have written a concerto for string quartet and orchestra, including Schoenberg, Yannatos, Schulhoff and Lees. I have selected the concerto by Martinu, in the version by the Endellion String Quartet and the City of London Sinfonia under Richard Hickox. It is available on a Virgin CD.

[85] Tuba, one of the last regular symphony orchestra instruments to feature in this series. Concertos for the largest and lowest-pitched instrument in the brass family are not very common, and probably the best-known one is by Vaughan Williams. I have selected the concerto by Holmboe, in the version by Jens Bjorn-Larsen and the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra under Owain Arwel Hughes. It is available on a Bis CD.

[86] Xylophone, another pitched member of the percussion group. Although it has been used on and off in symphony orchestra compositions (Saint-Saens, Schoenberg, Shostakovich), concertos for the instrument are rare (much rarer than for marimba). I have selected the concertino by Mayuzumi, in the version by Joanne May and the Foundation Philharmonic Orchestra under David Snell. It is available on an ASV CD.

[87] Celesta. Technically, this is another percussion instrument in spite of its outward resemblance of a piano. It was invented in 1886, and has made little appearance in classical music; its best-known use is undoubtedly Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker. In my CD collection, I have one concertino for celesta and orchestra by Roderick Elms, in the version by the composer and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Stephen Bell. It is available on a Dutton CD.

[88] Cornet. This is a brass instrument very similar to the trumpet, distinguished by its conical bore, compact shape, and mellower tone quality. It was invented in 1814, and has made little appearance in classical music. In my CD collection, I have one concerto for cornet and orchestra by Dexter Morrill, in the version by Mark Ponzo and the Northern Illinois Philharmonic under Brian Groner. It is available on a Centaur CD.

[89] Saxophone quartet. Another example of a musical ensemble used as a concertante 'instrument'. The saxophone quartet is composed of four saxophonists, typically employing soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. I have selected the concerto for saxophone quartet and orchestra by Tristan Keuris, in the version by the Rascher Saxophone Quartet and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra under Otto Tausk. It is available on a Quattro CD box.

[90] Mezzo-soprano. This is a rather unlikely concertante "instrument" - although we have encountered an earlier similar example in Gliere's concerto for coloratura soprano. I know of one concerto for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, the Lyra Celtica concerto by John Foulds. I have the recording by Susan Bickley and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo. It is available on a Warner Classics CD.

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