In concert – Christian Tetzlaff, Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen: Weimar Berlin – Angels and Demons

Christian Tetzlaff, Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen (above)

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London
Thursday 26 September 2019

Hindemith Rag Time (well-tempered) (1921)
J.S. Bach arr. Schoenberg Two Chorale Preludes: Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele BWV654; Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist BWV667 (1925)
Berg Violin Concerto (1935)
Hindemith Mathis der Maler Symphony (1934)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

This year the Philharmonia Orchestra have been exploring the music of Weimar Berlin as it was in the 1920s and 1930s, with fascinating results. Their most recent concert, subtitled Dreams and Demons, may have been relatively short, but it gave plenty of food for thought and the musical rewards were considerable.

A rather older composer who worked in Weimar made himself known throughout the concert, for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach was quoted, refracted and alluded to in each of the four pieces on the programme. Firstly we heard the opening notes of the Prelude in C minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, part of an affectionate and brilliantly ‘worded’ joke by Hindemith, whose Ragtime started the concert with a swagger. Esa-Pekka Salonen clearly enjoyed its gruff humour, but found the touches of elegance beneath the surface too.

The Ragtime’s surge to the close in E flat minor blossomed with a cleverly executed join into the first of two Bach chorale prelude arrangements by Schoenberg. Here we wondered at his audacious orchestration, taking on what he saw as ‘the first twelve tone music’ and sharing it around the orchestra with typically inventive pointing towards the melodies. Timothy Walden’s cello probed elegantly at the inner melodic lines of Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, while the exuberant close of Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geistdrew heralded the Hindemith work we were about to hear.

Berg’s Violin Concerto quotes from a Bach chorale, Es ist genug (It is enough) at the height of its remembrance of Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler. Subtitled To the Memory of An Angel, the work traverses a wide range of emotions in its thought processes, from brief oases of calm to fraught periods of activity. The clarinets of the Philharmonia, in all ranges, were superb, whether in the lighter Ländler theme of the first movement or the solemn chorale itself, their imitation of a pipe organ ghostly and – when the solo violinist’s harmonics were in play – ethereal. This was because soloist Christian Tetzlaff (above) also brought a wide range of sounds to the piece, from the fragility of the opening strings of the start to the surging faster music where he took the music by the scruff of the neck. His was a technically brilliant yet musically sensitive performance, closely joined to Salonen’s deft work with the orchestra.

All the while this wonderful piece was heading for the final bars and the ultimate rest, the sort of chord you would want to go on forever as Berg’s orchestral colours mingle with the highest note the violin reaches in the whole piece. Together Teztlaff and Salonen ensured the pacing was ideal, helped considerably by the light and shade of the Philharmonia’s contribution.

After the interval came a regrettably rare chance to hear some Hindemith in the concert hall in the shape of the Mathis der Maler Symphony, a three-movement work drawn from the opera of the same name. This oft-maligned composer exerts a good deal of influence on the tonal music of the second half of the 20th century, more than he is credited for, and his own works are instantly recognisable. Nor, as Salonen and the Philharmonia illustrated, is there a lack of colour or personality in his orchestral writing.

This was a superb performance of a piece Salonen clearly holds close to his heart, having conducted it at the Proms and recorded it for Sony in 2004. The expectant hush from the strings at the start was magical, the effect like walking into a sacred building, and this was reinforced by a solemn intonation of a chorale from the trombones, those Bach influences coming quickly to the surface. Salonen’s slower tempo here worked well.

The silvery strings enjoyed the moments of confluence in Hindemith’s writing, with the added note chords allowed to breathe, but Salonen was not above letting the grittier parts of the music off the leash, pushing forward through the faster phrases. The Philharmonia woodwind and brass were superb, the bell-like clarity of their playing bolstered by deeper shades. With all these qualities noted, Engelkonzert (Angelic Concert) unfolded beautifully, with a grand sense of ceremony at the end, while in response Grablegung (Entombment) was initially thoughtful, its ruminative woodwind then replaced by a brass-dominated climax which Salonen controlled immaculately.

Most dramatic of all was Versuchung des heiligen Antonius (The Temptation of Saint Anthony), with a ravishing tone from the Philharmonia strings at the outset. As it progressed the movement had a terrific cut and thrust, its tension released with impressive stature in the closing pages. Mathis der Maler is a wonderful score, one of Hindemith’s finest achievements – and by no means the only peak of his orchestral output. Here it put the seal on a fascinating and immensely rewarding concert, with superb musicianship throughout.

Further listening

You can hear the music played in this concert on the Spotify playlist below, including Salonen’s account of the Mathis der Maler symphony:

This playlist offers a broader view of Hindemith’s orchestral output, with the ballet suite Nobilissima Visione, the Concert Music for Strings and Brass and the vastly underrated piece for piano and orchestra The Four Temperaments:

Wigmore Mondays – Simon Höfele & Frank Dupree in 20th century works for trumpet and piano

Simon Höfele (trumpet, above) & Frank Dupree (piano, below)

Enescu Légende (1906) (2:07-8:20)
Takemitsu Paths (In Memoriam Witold Lutoslawski) (1994) (8:39-14:48
Hindemith Trumpet Sonata (1939) (16:56-33:30)
Savard Morceau de Concours (1903) (35:20-41:05)
Gaubert Cantabile et scherzetto (1909) (41:33-46:20)
Charlier Solo de Concours (1900) 47:39-54:26)

Wigmore Hall, London
Monday 28 January 2019

To hear the BBC broadcast through BBC Sounds, please follow this link

Photo credits Sebastian Heck (Simon Höfele)

Commentary and Review by Ben Hogwood

There is more music for the combination of solo trumpet and piano than you might think – and how gratifying for the BBC New Generation Artist Simon Höfele to remind us of that on his debut at the Wigmore Hall. Forming a most impressive partnership with pianist Frank Dupree, he gave us four works from the first decade of the 20th century, three by composers new to Arcana pages – and a masterpiece of the century’s repertoire.

Initially playing a trumpet ‘in C’ (that is, calibrated to sit naturally in the key of C major), Höfele listened to Dupree solemnly intoning the opening chords of the Enescu Légende (from 2:07 on the enclosed BBC Sounds link). A competition piece written by the Romanian composer for the 1906 trumpet competition (concours) at the Paris Conservatoire, it begins in a deceptively languid mood, the trumpet low in its register, but soon begins to stir, Höfele hitting a faultless top ‘C’ around 5:50. Then the thoughtful mood returns, the trumpet using the mute at the very end.

From this soft dynamic comes the beginning of the next piece, Takemitsu’s Paths (8:39). The paths in question are very separate – soft, ruminative phrases using the mute, answered by much bolder and generally higher writing. The piece ascends to the relative heights, the piercing rasp of the mute-inflected phrase brings it towards earth, but it ultimately ends in mid-air contemplation.

Hindemith was an incredibly versatile composer, in his career writing sonatas for no fewer than 16 of the instruments of the orchestra. His Trumpet Sonata is one of the finest examples of this canon, and betrays its 1939 origins with frequent references to the actions of his ‘home’ country Germany. At this point the composer was an exile in Switzerland, and this work effectively shows both his horror and sorrow at the annex of Austria, the occupation of Czechoslovakia and ultimately the invasion of Poland.

Turning to a trumpet ‘in B flat’, Höfele leads a brisk and busy start (from 16:56), though signs of the composer’s tongue-in-cheek writing are never far from the surface, peeking through at 17:50. Once reasserted, however, the main thematic material is impossible to shift.

The second movement (22:26) has a spirit of soft-hearted lazy play about it initially, with light hearted piano comments (ideally voiced by Dupree here) that are punctuated by the trumpet. From 29:19, the last movement, the piano distractedly accompanies the long trumpet phrases in lamentation, using as their source a chorale. Then the music builds to a resentful peak before fading away.

Very little is known of the French composer Augustin Savard – though he did win the coveted Prix de Rome with his oratorio La Vision de Saül in 1886. This Morceau de Concours is a competition piece for the trumpet that shows an impressive grasp of the instrument, not to mention drama in the slow introduction (35:20). By 39:06 the music has worked its way round to a genial theme for the faster section, after which trumpet and piano enjoy some light hearted exchanges.

Philippe Gaubert’s Cantabile et scherzetto, published six years later, enjoys a similar profile. Gaubert’s output is mostly directed towards the flute, but he too wrote a competition piece with a serious introduction (41:33) and a playful counterpart (44:20), packed with repeated triplets.

For the Solo de Concours by Belgian composer Théo Charlier (47:39) a slow introduction is not necessary, the piano firmly setting the scene before the trumpet’s arrival. An attractive slower theme (50:15) gives the other side of the story. A poignant aside from the muted trumpet follows before all the shackles are cast off in the final section (52:44) Just occasionally here Höfele felt as though he was overreaching with some of the more complicated phrases, but this – as with all the other pieces – was brilliantly handled.

The encore was a great choice, a Song Without Words by Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina (56:03-58:30), a solemn tune spiced with the odd ‘wrong’ note in the piano accompaniment, almost in the manner of Charles Ives.

Further listening

Simon Höfele and Frank Dupree have not yet recorded any of the repertoire performed in this concert. However the playlist below assembles the music in a number of different recordings, headed by Alison Balsom and Tom Poster in the Hindemith Trumpet Sonata:

Höfele does however have an extremely impressive disc of modern works in the bag, including music by HK Gruber, Takemitsu, Jolivet and Iain Hamilton:

Hindemith’s sonatas are intriguing pieces that combine flair and depth with concise writing structures. This disc, commonly linked by pianist Alexander Melnikov, is a winner:

BBC Proms 2017 – John Storgårds conducts the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in Sibelius, Grieg, Schumann & Hindemith

Prom 33: Lise Davidsen (soprano), Alban Gerhardt (cello), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / John Storgårds

Grieg Peer Gynt Op.23 (excerpts) (1876)

Sibelius Luonnotar Op.70 (1913); Karelia Suite Op.11 (1893)

Schumann Cello Concerto in A minor Op.129 (1850)

Hindemith Symphony, Mathis der Maler (1934)

Royal Albert Hall, Thursday 10 August, 2017

You can listen to this Prom by clicking here

John Storgårds has been making his mark on the BBC Proms in his appearances as Chief Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. Tonight’s tale of two geographical halves commenced with excerpts from Grieg’s music to Peer Gynt; starting with the lively Overture (hardanger fiddles in evidence thanks to the violas), then continuing with a vehement Ingrid’s Lament, a deftly propelled Morning and a pensive Solveig’s Song undermined by Lise Davidsen’s fluttery vocal; finishing with the suitably quirky Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter.

Davidsen (above) was then heard to better advantage in Sibelius’s tone-poem Luonnotar, coping ably with the stratospheric range of this singular creation myth – not the least of whose fascinations was having been premiered at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral. There have been some memorable accounts of this piece over recent years, and if Davidsen did not efface memories of such as Mattila and Komsi, she duly pointed up its drama and mystery in what was, for the greater part, a sympathetic account. The Proms audience was suitably attentive.

Sibelius’s comparatively mellifluous Karelia Suite brought this Nordic first half to its close. Storgårds’s widely contrasted tempi for the Intermezzo left a rather disjointed impression, and while the Alla Marcia sounded rumbustious enough, a certain coarseness of playing rather limited one’s enjoyment. Best by far was the Ballade, one of the composer’s most arresting earlier pieces in its enfolding modal harmonies and given a notably rapt reading with such aspects as the wistful cor anglais melody towards its close eloquently phrased.

The Germanic second half began in more restrained mood with Schumann’s Cello Concerto. Rarely performed for decades (and more often in the transcription for violin), this deceptively genial piece is among its composer’s most ingenious in terms of form and motivic continuity. Alban Gerhardt (above) maintained a determined while never merely inflexible course across its three continuous movements, the BBC Philharmonic providing support as attentive yet unobtrusive as the music required. Interesting to hear that the soloist thought the finale musically the least successful, as this emerged as arguably the most successful part – not least with its engaging dialogue kept on its toes and with no sense of dourness or grittiness as regarded the orchestral texture. Overall, a perceptive and convincing account of a work still too easily overlooked.

Storgårds then rounded-off the programme with a taut and tensile reading of the symphony that Hindemith derived from his opera Mathis der Maler. This retelling of cultural meltdown and social antagonism during the Thirty Years War proved too ‘contemporary’ for the Nazi regime to stomach, and it was no surprise that the premiere of the complete opera took place in Zurich. Storgårds had the measure of the Angelic Concert with its austere chorales and angular though never impersonal polyphony. The Entombment of Christ was affecting for all its brevity, while the climactic Temptation of St Anthony built surely and impulsively from its stark introduction, through a central interlude of tangible pathos, to a culmination such as blazed forth in affirmation. All credit to Storgårds for ensuring so cathartic an impact.

Richard Whitehouse (photo of Lise Davidsen (c) Ole-Jørgen-Bratland)

Wigmore Mondays – Peter Moore & James Baillieu: Trombone showpieces

peter-moore

Peter Moore & James Baillieu: Trombone showpieces

James Maynard Urban Variations (2016, world première)

Schumann Fantasiestücke Op. 73 (1849)

Axel Jørgensen Romance Op. 21 (publ.1921)

Duparc La vie antérieure (1884)

Rachmaninov Cello Sonata in G minor Op. 19 (3rd movt, Andante) (1901)

Hindemith Trombone Sonata (1941)

Arthur Pryor Annie Laurie (early 1900s)

Listen to the BBC broadcast here

Written by Ben Hogwood

Peter Moore is a remarkable talent.

Winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year crown at the age of 12, co-principal trombone of the London Symphony Orchestra at 18 and now one of the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists, he looks set for a long and lasting career at the top, if this superb recital is anything to go by.

The same can be said for partner in crime James Baillieu, a pianist of great sensitivity and style, whose musicality and technique mark him out as a very fine accompanist – using that term with the knowledge that it is not a secondary role!

The recital, a rare chance to experience the trombone in a solo capacity, was full of thrills and spills. Moore began with a flourish, the enjoyable Urban Variations of fellow trombonist James Maynard an evocation of three different cities – Berlin (from 1:42 on the broadcast), London (a calm St John’s Wood park at 3:10) and the bustle of New York (8:13)

Then Moore explored more romantic repertoire in straight transcriptions of three Fantasy Pieces by Schumann (10:59), a song by Duparc (26:13) and the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata (30:55), with an original piece from the Danish composer Axel Jørgensen added for good measure.

The Schumann was a tricky one for both performers to balance. It was superbly played but at the back of the hall the piano was a way back in the balance at times. The Duparc and Rachmaninov fared very well, an inspired pairing that proved a great showcase for Moore’s breadth of tone, while the Jorgensen (from 21:00) was a bright piece, dappled with sunshine.

The coup de grace, though, was a brilliant performance of Hindemith’s Trombone Sonata (from 38:25). Rarely heard in the concert hall these days, the composer’s music gets an unfair deal. Moore and Baillieu showed us why this is wrong, with plenty of humour, grace and a gritty resilience, the latter quality due in part to the work’s composition in 1941, around the Second World War. Both players performed heroically, whether it was Baillieu catching the rhythmic drive of the music, or Moore moving between technical trickery and sudden if brief lyrical asides. The third movement, wonderfully described as a Swashbuckler’s Song, found Moore at his outspoken best.

The two followed with a work by Sousa’s go-to trombone man, Arthur Pryor (from 48:50). Annie Laurie, an air and variations on the traditional Scottish tune, was a winning performance, the audience alternately gasping at Moore’s technique or laughing at some of the outrageous and funny musical statements. The encore, which was inevitable after a concert of such good quality, was an arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile (54:38)

If brass playing is your thing, I would urge you to catch Peter Moore live – and soon!

Further listening

The music played by Peter Moore and James Baillieu is included in the Spotify playlist below.