On Record: Håkan Hardenberger – Dean: Dramatis Personae; Francesconi: Hard Pace (BIS)

Dean Dramatis Personae (2013), Francesconi Hard Pace (2007)

Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet), Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra / John Storgårds

BIS (BIS 2067SACD)

What’s it all about?

Håkan Hardenberger returns with a further two concertos to add to the sizable number he has commissioned over these past three decades, as written by two leading composers from the middle generation whose musical aesthetics complement each other in almost every respect.

What’s the music like?

Well established as a violist before turning successfully to composition, Brett Dean (b1961) has several concertos among his output. As its title attests, Dramatis Personae evinces overtly dramatic connotations – not least those of Hamlet, an opera on which Shakespeare play Dean began writing immediately after the present work. Not that this concerto is about existential angst; rather it favours a distinctly sardonic take on the heroic concept – its initial movement, Fall of a Superhero, building from an anticipatory crescendo to an animated if increasingly fatigued interplay as subsides into enervated calm. Soliloquy proceeds as reflective dialogue whose elegiac quality takes on a renewed impetus in The Accidental Revolutionary, whose Chaplinesque humour reaches its apogee in the knockabout recessional which acts as coda.

A composer whose formative years were focussed on electronics, jazz and production, Luca Francesconi (b1956) has amassed a comparably diverse output where instrumental virtuosity is everywhere apparent. Not least in Hard Pace, a trumpet concerto that takes its cue from one of the instrument’s great practitioners. Although he never wrote or commissioned a concerto, Miles Davis delved extensively into those possibilities of varied accompaniment and sound diffusion everywhere audible in the Francesconi. This falls into two parts, the first building from eventful stasis to hectic activity before it suddenly ceases. The second part consists of three increasingly shorter sections – a taciturn Adagio whose emotional intensity spills over into the semi-cadenza of Miles, before the brief Finale brings matters to a decisive close.

Does it all work?

Yes. Neither of these concertos takes the all-round possibilities of the trumpet forward to the same degree as Peter Eötvös’s Jet Stream or Olga Neuwirth’s …miramondo multiplo… (both of which have been recorded by Hardenberger), but there can be no doubt as to their success in terms of demonstrating the instrument’s essential demeanour. That this is Hardenberger’s fourth disc of works for trumpet and orchestra on this label, moreover, wholly confirms his dedication to expanding what was once a genre proscribed both temporally and expressively.

The time has long gone when trumpeters searching for concertos outside of the Baroque or Classical eras had little more than that by Alexander Arutunian to draw on, for which sea-change Hardenberger can take no mean credit. His stentorian playing in both these pieces is further enhanced by an excellent contribution from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Storgårds with sure understanding of that expressive ebb-and-flow between soloist and orchestra. Both the SACD sound and booklet notes are well up to BIS’s customary standards.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. A welcome and impressive addition to a discography which, formerly on Philips and latterly on BIS, has no equals when it comes to defining a repertoire for the trumpet such as younger practitioners can take forward in the knowledge its potential is far from exhausted.

Richard Whitehouse

Listen here on Spotify:

Proms premiere – Luca Francesconi: Duende

luca-francesconi

Luca Francesconi

Leila Josefowicz (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra / Susanna Mälkki (Prom 13)

Duration: 20 minutes

BBC iPlayer link

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p02wv00w/bbc-proms-2015-season-luca-francesconi-duende-the-dark-notes

What’s the story behind the piece?

leila-josefowicz
Leila Josefowicz playing Duende Photo (c) Chris Christodoulou

“Historically”,– says Luca Francesconi, “duende is the demon of flamenco. As Federico Garcìa Lorca explains, it is a subterranean force of unheard-of power that escapes rational control. To recover a primitive force in the instrument that perhaps most embodies the history of the West it is necessary to make a perilous descent into the underworld of dark notes, or a flight beyond the orbit of the earth. Which amounts to the same thing. Extremely difficult. But without duende we remain bolted to the ground.”

The work, for violin and orchestra, is a joint commission from the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Leila Josefowicz, the violin soloist, has expanded on ‘duende’. “We acknowledged that we both have Duende, which cannot be learned…this is something we knew we could share with the world, he with his composition and me being the interpreter and musical messenger. I appreciate his incredible musical imagination, his scores bursting with colour and drama”.

Did you know?

Francesconi, born in 1956, has studied with both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio. His chamber opera Quartett, about the end of the world, was heard at the Royal Opera House in 2014.

Initial verdict

This is a striking piece, right from the start, where the violin begins with some feather light string crossing at a very high pitch, seemingly evoking night time insects or other sounds. There are some incredibly taxing passages for the instrument early on, which Josefowicz is completely equal to.

There is some frenetic activity both from violin and orchestra, but at around 7 minutes in the violin really soars, making a rather beautiful sound easily audible even above the glinting, treble-heavy accompaniment.

Around 13’10” there is a notable gear change, the violin digging in for some seriously virtuosic and demonic passages. Then at around 17” a slow, nocturnal atmosphere asserts itself, with various whistles and clicks from the violin to long-held notes from the orchestra.

I found it a little more difficult to hold attention with the piece in the closing stages, but it is doubtful that is the fault of the composer. A second hearing will confirm!

Second hearing

tbc!

Where can I hear more?

You can watch a performance of the Piano Concerto no.2, completed in 2013, below: