Krisztián Kováts solves “The Mystery of the Natural Trumpet”

The limitations of the natural trumpet come down to physics. A metal tube vibrates at certain frequencies, and those frequencies have fixed mathematical relationships.

When the tube (or trumpet) vibrates at a frequency in its harmonic series of overtones, a note sounds. The notes of the harmonic series are far apart at the bottom but get closer together as they get higher.

That’s why military bugles play mostly three or four notes that skip around. They’re on the low end of the series, and they’re easy to play.

The same was true with the natural trumpet. Modern trumpets can play any note with relative ease because their valves change the length of their tubing, and thus their harmonic series.

For Baroque trumpeters, though, only at the extreme high register (or clarino register) were the harmonics close enough together to play a scale — or a melody that was more than just arpeggios.

It took tremendous skill to control the air pressure to create a beautiful tone. And not to just play a single note in the high register, but many, hitting each one with accuracy and control.

It still takes tremendous skill. Krisztián Kováts has it. He plays a valveless trumpet with a pure, singing tone and seems quite at home in the clarino register. The works in this release were composed for some of the best trumpeters of the age, and Kováts is equal to the task. His playing sounds relaxed, with beautiful phrasing.

The works are good, if not great. Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz might be the best-known composer in the program. Johann Otto, Joseph Riepel, Johann Goerg Lang, and Johann Matthias Sperger aren’t exactly household names. But they all composed well-crafted music, and music that served its purpose — to showcase the trumpet.

What makes this an exciting release are the performances. Kováts plays these works with the instrument they were written for. No mystery here. It’s a perfect match.

The Mystery of the Natural Trumpet
Krisztián Kováts, trumpet
L’arpa festanate
Christoph Hesse; Rien Volkuilen
CPO 555 114-2

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