Last month, Naxos records released a CD that features trumpet concertos by composers Alexander Arutiunian, Mieczysław Weinberg, and Dimitri Shostakovich. What is so special about this CD; aside from the amazing trumpet playing, is the soloist is the current principal trumpet of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Paul Merkelo.

Merkelo is of Ukrainian decent and all of his royalties from this CD will go toward helping the people of Ukraine.

As Merkelo explains, “It was my was my condition with Naxos that in order to release this I wanted to donate all of the proceeds that I make from either physical copy sales or streaming. All the proceeds that I make, I’m going to give it back to UNICEF for the children of Ukraine until this conflict is over.” Merkelo has already done a great deal to raise money for Ukraine. Recently he performed at a fundraiser for the people of Ukraine, and that event rose over $160.000.

All three concertos on this CD are masterworks for the instrument and have some connection to the great Soviet trumpet Virtuoso Timofei Dokshitzer. Dokshitzer served for many years as the Principal Trumpet of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, and also taught at the Gnessin Academy of Music. He also had a very successful solo career early on. More than 20 works were composed for him by various composers throughout the Soviet Union.

Merkelo recorded the CD with the Russian National Orchestra under Hans Graf. The recording was made pre-pandemic and pre-invasion. One of the benefits of recording with Russian National Orchestra was that Merkelo had the opportunity to talk shop with the trumpets of the Orchestra. “Many of them knew Dokshitzer personally, and studied with him…there is such a big connection there. It’s very similar to Maurice Andre’s influence in Europe. Dokshitzer’s legend continues way beyond the years he was actually alive,” states Merkelo.

The Arutiunian trumpet concerto is probably the most frequently performed concerto on this recoding. Written in 1950, it has been recorded by many trumpet players around the world. Dokshitzer was the first trumpet player ever to record the work, and he wrote his own highly demanding cadenza for that recording. Merkelo re-captures the virtuosity and flair of that original recording of the Arutiunian by performing Dokshitzer’s cadenza on this latest release.

The Mieczysław Weinberg concerto was written for Dokshitzer, and consists of three highly demanding movements for the soloist. The three movements are called Etudes, Episodes, and Fanfares. It is quite long for a brass concerto coming in at a little under 25 minutes. Merkelo describes the concerto this way, “Its heavy…It’s heavy…the Weinberg is like a symphony for trumpet. In fact he (Dokshitzer) said that at one point… ‘this is like a symphony featuring a trumpet solo.” Merkelo goes on to say “I love that because that is my two worlds. Playing in the orchestra but also playing as a soloist…so with the Weinberg I really felt like I was part of both of those worlds.”

The final concerto on the CD is Shostakovich’s 1st Piano Concerto. The 1st piano concerto has a very prominent obbligato trumpet part, and Dokshitzer took it upon himself to re-arrange the solo trumpet part so that the work would be more like a double concerto. Merkelo plays Dokshitzer’s arrangement. This recording is the first ever commercial recording that has been made of Dokshitzer re-arrangement of the trumpet part.

All three of the works on this recording are highly virtuosic and demanding of the trumpet soloist. It is testament to Merkelo’s mastery of the instrument that the performances of all three concertos are flawless and are played with great style and finesse. Despite the demands, Merkelo’s playing comes off as effortless and beautiful, which make this CD an absolute joy to listen to.

This is a marvelous tribute to the legacy of Timofei Dokshitzer, performed by one of the very few trumpet players in the world that could give this ambitious project the presentations of these three master works they deserve.