Both Sides, Now
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-92)
Joni MITCHELL (b. 1943)
Both Sides, Now (arr. Roland Pöntinen) [5.53]
Richard RODGERS (1902-1979)
My Funny Valentine
(arr. Thomas Stevens) [4.22]
SAINT-PREUX (b. 1950)
Andante pour Trompette
(arr. Roland Pöntinen) [3.19]
Jan LUNDGREN (b. 1966)
The Seagull
(arr. Roland Pöntinen) [6.48]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Speak Low
Michel LEGRAND (b. 1932)
Sans Toi
(arr. Roland Pöntinen) [4.26]
Thomas NEWMAN (b. 1955)
Angels in America
(arr. Roland Pöntinen) [3.10]
Ennio MORRICONE (b. 1928)
Gabriel’s Oboe from “The Mission”
(arr. Tobias Broström) [3.15]
Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
Waltz and Love Theme from “The Godfather”
(arr. Tobias Broström) [4.02]
Rolf WALLIN (b. 1957)
Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Kenneth Sillito
rec. June 2011, St. John’s, Smith Square, London, England, SACD Surround and Stereo
BIS BIS-SACD-1814 [50.21]

This was my first opportunity to hear Håkan Hardenberger’s playing, and I certainly hope it is not my last. Hardenberger has it all: gorgeous tone, consistency throughout all registers, immaculate intonation and superb dynamic control. He is lushly accompanied by the strings of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, an “extremely beautiful” combination according to Hardenberger. In the liner-notes, which adopt the currently in-vogue interview format found in many artist-driven CDs, Hardenberger says that this recording has extra significance for him, since he made his first recording in 1986 with this orchestra. With an established successful relationship between orchestra and soloist, I prepared for a potentially remarkable recital, and, for the most part, that potential was realized. 

However, there is an issue, and, for me, it is significant. All eleven tracks basically inhabit the same sound-world and mood. Every track moves at a measured tempo, and the arrangements can sound too similar in style. I was greatly taken by the first two tracks: Hardenberger’s first entrance is breathtakingly soft and so pure I at first thought it was an oboe. The orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Sillito, is with Hardenberger every step of the way, following his every ritardando and accelerando, milking every ounce of opulent sonority from the harmonies. Yet, by the end of the second track, I was beginning to crave greater variety. My Funny Valentine (Track 3) introduces some new compositional ideas by beginning with a smaller number of players, and using a more polyphonic texture that brings out more rhythmic activity. Still, something was missing, and I realized what it was listening to the next track, Andante pour Trompette. The melodies for the first three pieces all feature the same restrained, mellow and forlorn mood. The Andante felt so much livelier just because the trumpet line finally includes more melismatic writing.
In The Seagull, the trumpet writing returns to melodies that are too similar in mood and style to the opening tracks. I had high hopes for Track 6, Speak Low: surely the arrangement would be leaner and more acerbic, as Weill often is in his own orchestral writing. Disappointingly, it was more of the same, and after the three arrangements of film music (Angels in America, The Mission, and The Godfather), I was overly-satiated. Perhaps this explains why the CD is only 50 minutes long, but I know these musicians are capable of so much more, and the 30 available minutes seem like a wasted opportunity.
If what I have written sounds like I don’t like the album, nothing could be farther from the truth. I greatly enjoyed the recital, and the arrangements are unfailingly beautiful and inventive. The recording is what we expect of BIS, excellent in every way. But listening to this CD straight through is comparable to eating dark chocolate: thoroughly enjoyable, but over-indulgence could leave you feeling slightly queasy.
In short, this is an excellent recording to be listened to a track or two at a time, but perhaps too much of a good thing for one sitting.

David A. McConnell

Too much of a good thing for one sitting.