My Song of Songs

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The Musician - My Song of Songs

Dazzling virtuosity. Its not easy to say exactly what goes into a producing a successful solo CD. Is it the brilliance of playing, the careful selection of the repertoire, the stunning quality of sound or even the informative and helpful sleeve notes? Who knows? What one can say is that when you have My Song of Songs in your CD player and the notes in your hand, you are in for a wholly satisfying experience. For not only is Philip Smith a consummate artist and performer (he should be, hes Principal Trumpet with the New York Philharmonic) hes also a Christian with a burning desire to share his faith through music.

I was a little apprehensive when first listening to this recording because Id been so enthralled reading Phils notes on his motivation, the music and its origins. From the preface we discover that he loves music. He loves contemporary gospel songs and he loves revitalizing old ones. Hes a man with a militant Christian faith. His message is that Christ, our Savior, shed his blood on the cross of Calvary as a sacrifice for our sins. He believes in the necessity of being strong and firm and that there will come a time when we who are Christians will have to dig down and plant our feet. These themes are self-evident in his choice of music-from the title track My Song of Songs and the traditional Only One Intention to the upbeat Joshua Swings the Battle and Trumpet Call. And just to make sure the message is well understood all the relevant song words are printed in the booklet.

So, then, does the music live up to the writing? The promise is amply fulfilled. Philip plays with total security and ease throughout a wide range of styles. Joshua Swings the Battle is played with tremendous flare and a sizzling sound; Excursions, a tour de force by well-known film composer Bruce Broughton, is given in the best symphonic style; while Eric Balls vintage Glory To His Name is polished up to glittering brilliance. Philips sound is rich and bright and his style, always flexible, is a marvelous synthesis of all thats best in American and British brass playing.

While there is always a lyrical quality in his playing he plays with great strength and a bravura that never degenerates into brashness. Although the great majority of the tracks are played on a trumpet, this only serves to enhance items such as Rhapsody On Negro Spirituals-one of my personal favorites. On the other hand, Philips rich but vibrant cornet sound can be heard in James Curnows attractive Concertpiece For Cornet and his beautifully moving and sensitive performance of David Catherwoods They Shall Be Mine.

There is plenty of variety, too, with the inclusion of the duet Arabesque and the trio The Victors, when the soloist is ably joined by New York Staff Bandsmen Michael Baker and Gordon Ward. It would be true to say that the solo playing on this recording would not convince so well were it not for the crisp and colorful accompaniments of the New York Staff Band. This is not just a great trumpet CD but a great band one too.

Last but not least is the absolutely vital contribution of the sound engineer, Ted Marshall. He has given us a bright, resonant yet detailed balance that brings all the variety of sound to life. The soloist is set clearly in among a full supporting band sound and one can only congratulate the whole team for producing such a consistent recording over more than 18 months.

What I find particularly refreshing is the absence of any attempt by Philip to draw attention to his undoubted gifts as an instrumentalist. Instead he touchingly pays tribute to the influence of his legendary cornetist father Derek Smith, who conducts the lovely final item A Gaelic Blessing. If there is an absence of display for displays sake there is certainly not an absence of dazzling virtuosity, which is there solely to serve the music. Let Philip have the last word: "If anyone hears this album and only hears the music, theyve missed the point. My prayer is that they will hear the message. I want them to know my motivation-what Christ means to me, how he has led me and how he continues to lead." Reviewed by Dudley Bright-Principal Trombone, LSO