July 2000

Rolf Smedvig - Virtuoso
Telarc CD-80550
Released: 2000

by Paul Schumann

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]There is no doubt about it -- classical trumpet virtuosos don’t get the recognition they deserve. While the star violinists, cellists, pianists and flutists all have names that are familiar to casual classical-music listeners, the best brass players continue to play in relative obscurity. Today, if you blow a horn, you’re better off playing jazz if you want to be noticed.

Instead of accepting this state of affairs lying down, Rolf Smedvig has been working vigorously to carve out a place for himself in the world of classical-music virtuosos. With an exclusive recording contract with Telarc in hand, Smedvig founded the Empire Brass Quartet, which also records for Telarc. Smedvig also serves quite frequently as a guest soloist for orchestras around the world. With these vehicles in place, Smedvig has become a musician of some renown in the world of classical music.

Virtuoso is a compilation of previously recorded pieces by Smedvig, both as a soloist and as a member of the Empire Brass Quintet. The musical styles of these pieces range from medieval to modern. One of the challenges for a modern trumpet player is that most of the great trumpet music was written during the Baroque period. To expand his repertoire, Smedvig has taken it upon himself to take works written in other styles and arrange them for brass. In fact, all but three of the tracks on this disc are Smedvig arrangements. These arrangements bubble with enthusiasm and give some familiar tunes a fresh feel. Two of my favorites are Borodin’s "Polovtsian Dances" and Mozart’s "Turkish March." No two pieces could be more different in feel, yet both performances reflect a deep-seated love of the music.

Since this album is a compilation, the sound does show some variability between tracks. Some of the earlier recorded tracks are bit heavy on the reverb (natural, of course) and are bit edgier than the more recent ones. As always with Telarc products, the sound is consistently lucid and infused with sunshine.

So is Rolf Smedvig a true virtuoso? If flawless technique, incredible control, pure tone, and impeccable timing count for anything, then yes! As I alluded to earlier, the playing on this disc goes beyond pyrotechnics. Every track on this CD demonstrates Smedvig’s comfort with a wide range of styles, as both a performer and arranger. If you aren’t familiar with Smedvig’s work, then this disc is great place to start.