THE ugly duckling of the brass family, the trombone is an instrument whose versatility and elegance classical music lovers typically overlook. Times are changing, however, and a handful of artists on the circuit, such as the phenomenal Swedish virtuoso Christian Lindberg, are introducing audiences to a significant body of previously unexplored music.
In a new CD on Cala Records, Joseph Alessi shows every sign of being Lindberg's equal. Alessi's recording is part of Cala's "New York Legends" 12-disc series by the principal chairs of the New York Philharmonic. Packed with premieres and works by American composers, "New York Legends" is a self-contained showcase of American musical life, one that highlights the many personal stories to be found in the world's greatest orchestras. The series boasts no fewer than 38 premiere recordings and also has a strong American slant: 50 out of the 91 recorded works are by American composers such as Amy Beach, Stephen Paulus and Gunther Schuller.
Other labels in the industry would do well to emulate to Cala's creative approach to some of the less frequented byways of the classical repertory. "New York Legends" is not only fascinating as a chamber music series but also as a self-contained portrait of New York musical life. A case in point is the disc featuring Alessi, who became principal of the New York Philharmonic when he was 25.
More so than any of his colleagues in the "New York Legends" series, Alessi is equally at home in the worlds of jazz and Broadway. In his CD we hear Alessi jamming with his friends in a tribute to jazz trombone legend J.J. Johnson, as well as recordings of new works by Eric Awazen and Stephen Rush. All are really funky and exciting pieces.
Not surprisingly, Leonard Bernstein's music appears throughout "New York Legends," and Alessi's disc is no exception. Recordings of other classical favorites such as Massenet's "Meditation from Thaos" and a Guy Ropartz showpiece round out the disc, making it a good listen from beginning to end. I approached this series mildly curious but came away excited. Of the 12 "New York Legends" discs scheduled for release, only the double-bass, clarinet, English horn and trombone discs are currently available, so it's too early to judge the success of the series as a whole. Alessi's contribution, however, is a real find.