williams trumpet hooten

John Williams (b.1932)
Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra (1996)
Born on the Fourth of July – suite (1991)
Thomas Hooten (trumpet)
unnamed orchestra/John Williams
rec. 2018, California
Private release [28]

That John Williams conducts his own music is well enough known. He appears here in those creative and interpretative roles.  A New Yorker who studied with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Rosina Lhévinne, Williams is an alumnus of The Juilliard. He has engraved his way in the screen music world, working with Herrmann, Newman and Waxman, two of whom wrote distinctive and ambitious concert music not to mention a whole library of film scores. Lesser known is his music for the Olympics which has been asserted over the years 1984, 1988, 1996 and 2002. That said, there is much else for the concert hall including two symphonies, concertos for flute, violin (two, including one 35-minute work, recently recorded by Anne-Sophie Mutter on DG), clarinet, French Horn (for the Chicago Orchestra) and harp, the latter for Boston and James Levine. In the present artist label disc, the concentrated hub of attention is, of course, John Williams and balances his music for concert and cinema.

The three-movement Trumpet Concerto squares up to the listener, front and centre. It was written for the Cleveland Orchestra and its then newly-appointed principal trumpet, Michael Sachs. Thomas Hooten is Principal Trumpet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Before that he had been on the strengths of the Indianapolis and Atlanta orchestras.

The first movement – a Maestoso – has the trumpet as a dazzlingly ripe presence. It revels in Waltonian display and a nobility that recalls the writing in Saving Private Ryan and the first Star Wars film.  Hooten is well grounded by the orchestra’s nicely expressed bass writing. The middle section evokes a slowly arching mercurial bow. This music speaks of the heights but curves into a proving ground of virtuosic coruscations. This plays to Hooten’s days in “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band. The proceedings end with a Waltonian hammer-blow.

The slow movement, marked Slowly, has a seething edginess. It is certainly not simplistic or swooningly romantic. Instead, we might be forgiven for thinking of a blend of Ives’ Central Park and Samuel Barber of the 1930s. This moves naturally into a bluesy mangrove wispiness that recalls the composer’s leaning towards Louis Armstrong, and Williams’ early work as a jazz pianist in New York nightclubs. It also takes a tincture from the sort of music that Herrmann might have used to suggest a dankly bleak burial ground. A discreetly decorative piano takes its place towards the end. Finally there’s a shorter Allegro Deciso with Hooten emphatically ripping into the score in pecking and swooping figures.

The music for the film Born on the 4th of July appears as a short continuous suite in a single movement. It is elegiac with a big sentimental theme. It inhabits a blend of RVW’s Tallis Fantasia and the middle movement of Barber’s Violin Concerto. In this lushly expressed and enjoyably decorated piece the trumpet plays a commanding part.

The ample booklet notes – only in English – address the broad sweep and the minutiae of the soloist, of Williams and of his music. The almost 80 musicians who make up the unnamed session orchestra seem to be meticulously listed. They are drawn both from the benches of the LA Phil and the ranks of Hollywood contract players.

We should note that there are other recordings of the Williams Concerto. I have not heard them. They are by Arturo Sandoval on Dénouement Records and Jouko Harjanne on Pilfink Records.

The disc is very satisfying but I also hope that we might at some point hear Hooten in other less familiar territory such as the works for trumpet and orchestra by Hovhaness, Vainberg and Pakhmutova.

Rob Barnett

Availability: Artist’s website