Heavenly acoustics from duo

It is amazing what a sound a trumpet, an organ and the acoustic resonances of Norwich Cathedral can produce. Musicians John Coulton and David Dunnett spoke to KEIRON PIM about their new CD, Sounds of Splendour.

The church organ and the trumpet have a long history of being played together, the first instrument providing solemnity and the second evoking a heavenly fanfare.

Baroque composers such as Henry Purcell and J S Bach wrote pieces for the two instruments, and the tradition extends through to the modern day.

Now two Norwich-based musicians have produced a CD charting that musical tradition, recorded earlier this year in the fitting surroundings of Norwich Cathedral.

Trumpeter John Coulton and organist David Dunnett have been playing together for two years and their CD, Sounds of Splendour, beautifully captures their burgeoning partnership.

John, who is Australian and a graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, performs internationally with a number of orchestras and as a soloist, but has chosen to settle in Norwich.

"We have been playing together for a couple of years and it has been going from strength to strength," he says.

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"We got a record deal and some management and a lot of concerts, and it's really taking off.

"We wanted to make an album of accessible music for the man on the street. We have gone for a mixture of popular classical music and some contemporary music as well."

Of the 10 composers and 25 pieces of music featured on the CD, only a few - such as Purcell's Sonata in D and modern composer Petr Eben's Okna (Windows) - were specifically written for organ and trumpet.

Others, for instance Tomaso Albinoni's Concerto in F Major and Charles Gounod's Ave Maria, have new arrangements for trumpet and organ.

Many of the pieces may appear unfamiliar from their titles but are recognisable when you hear them. For instance, John explains, you may not have heard of the Prelude to the Te Deum, by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), but you may well know it as the introductory music to the Eurovision Song Contest.

His musical partner, David, has been organist and Master of the Music at Norwich Cathedral since 1996 and is also choral conductor of the Norwich Philharmonic Society.

The thinking behind the CD was to attract people with music they will already know, and so doing also introduce to them pieces such as Eben's composition, which David calls "perhaps the most important piece of 20th- century trumpet and organ music".

He explains: "We wanted to have a fairly good mixture of things that were immediately accessible to a listening audience, like Ave Maria, which they would recognise quite quickly. When people are browsing for CDs, I think they like to see a couple of pieces on there that they know. There's something for everyone on it."

John added that relatively little music had been recorded at the cathedral before - "Maybe Songs of Praise has been there every couple of years, and the choir has recorded there too, but I don't think there has been a lot.

"Norwich is not somewhere that is known for its classical music culture as much as some other cities, and we hope that this will boost its profile and show what is happening here."

The cathedral's current organ dates from 1942 in its present form, after the previous one was badly damaged by fire in 1938. It is the third largest church organ in the country, with 6,500 pipes, ranging from 32ft in length down to less than an inch, and 105 speaking stops.

"It does make a heck of a noise!" David laughs. "It's a very big instrument and it's very thrilling to play."

He believes the fact that the trumpet can hold its own against such an overwhelming instrument explains why the two have often been used together.

"Going back a long time, the trumpet was often used for religious ceremonies, so it does have the connotations of angels blowing trumpets.

"The combination of organ and trumpet has always been a very successful one, because the trumpet is such a powerful instrument that it can compete and combine with the organ very well."

The recordings took place in March of this year and were produced by Matthew Dilley, who effectively harnesses the cathedral's stunning acoustics on the CD. The combination of an organ, a trumpet and the echo of a historic church is a potent one, and John feels that explains their growing popularity as concert performers.

"I think we're popular because a lot of churches like to put on organ recitals, and the trumpet, with its angelic references, seems to go well with that."

Sounds of Splendour: Music for Trumpet and Organ from Norwich Cathedral is available from outlets including Prelude Records,

the Cathedral shop and Gibson Music, priced £9.99.

John Coulton and David Dunnett will perform at Norwich Cathedral on August 28 and at Cromer parish church on September 5.

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