The solo trumpet is an instrument for fiercely confident optimists: Flub an attack or blur a note and there's no place to hide. Its shrill, insistent tone was scorned by Mozart, who substituted the clarinet; eventually it was revived by Wagner. Many composers reserve it for heraldic flourishes or raucous musical stabs. Saturday evening's concert by trumpeter Chris Gekker with pianist Robert McCoy and baritone Steven Rainbolt at the University of Maryland's Ulrich Recital Hall presented four contemporary works that granted the trumpet a starring role, delivered with remarkable finesse.
Gekker opened with Eric Ewazen's Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, an upbeat contemporary work that echoed Alpine folk-song harmonies in the second movement and switched to blaring, traffic-inspired tones in the third. By the end of the second piece, "Winter," a world premiere by Gaithersburg composer David Snow, which featured repeated chord variations and treble descents evoking falling snow, it was clear that Gekker could coax the entire palette of tone colors from his trumpet.
After intermission, James Wintle (all the composers were present) took the stage to explain the inspiration for his piece "The Key"--a Jackson Pollock painting of the same name. Written with Gekker's range and power in mind, the four movements show the scope of the trumpet, from stately adagio to a takeoff on a ragtime tune to a ghostly, restrained final movement with sustained trumpet notes and pauses. "To Cast a Shadow Again," a song cycle composed by Ewazen to poems written by Katherine Gekker, the soloist's sister, explored the emotional span of an intimate affair. Midway through the eight songs, the trumpet interlude showed off Chris Gekker's toccata ornamental work.