Both Sides, Now
Oblivión [4:54]
Joni MITCHELL (b.1943)
Both Sides, Now [5:53]
Richard RODGERS (1902-1979)
My Funny Valentine [4:22]
SAINT-PREUX (b.1950)
Andante pour trompette [3:19]
Jan LUNDGREN (b.1966)
The Seagull [6:48]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Speak Low [4:10]
Michel LEGRAND (b.1932)
Sans Toi [4:26]
Thomas NEWMAN (b.1955)
Angels in America [3:10]
Ennio MORRICONE (b.1928)
Gabriel’s Oboe from “The Mission” [3:15]
Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
Waltz & Love Theme from “The Godfather” [4:02]
Rolf WALLIN (b.1957)
Elegy [4:44]
Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Kenneth Sillito
rec. June 2011, St John Smith’s Square, London
BIS BIS-SACD-1814 [50:21]
This is one of those recordings which you will either deeply love, or which will leave you with perhaps some warm and patchy feelings of nostalgia but not otherwise particularly enamoured. If the latter, you are unlikely to go for it in the first place, but with legion fans of Håkan Hardenberger’s superb playing and almost invariably exciting programming there will be many tempted to try this titbit. You may detect here and there that this is not really my ‘bag’, and I have to admit to not being hugely excited by the kinds of sentiment so warmly purveyed by much of this album. If however, you are not a churlish old purist who prefers original cuts, or you are someone who delights in quietly expressed heart-on-sleeve romanticism, then this may be right up your street.
The booklet notes declare that, having earned his reputation as a trailblazer, “finally the time has come for Håkan Hardenberger to indulge his audience, and himself, with some of the greatest melodies ever written.” If you like your music sweet and slow, then this is like a hot steamy bath with added oils at the end of a tiring day. With this recording you can indeed immerse and indulge in fifty minutes of unchallenging, beautifully performed music, and I would be the last person in the world to deny you your pleasure. Hardenberger’s ability to sing with his instrument is given free rein in every song here. He is a model of good taste and restraint, like every good vocalist, even when he does let rip you always have the feeling he retains a little in reserve.
There are some nice changes of timbre here and there. The Kurt Weill tune Speak Low is played with a mute, making the trumpet sound a little as if it was coming through the horn of an old 78 rpm acoustic record player. The subtly placed piano notes are a nice little touch in this arrangement as well. The programme selection is driven by music which appears in, or was written for films. Pianist and collaborator Roland Pöntinen, whose exploits in this field has already been proven with his marvellous Pianorama album for BIS, made many of the orchestrations for this album, and Hardenberger credits him with ‘freeing his own musical imagination.’ For me the Pianorama album works better, as there is a greater sense of improvisatory invention and contrast. With Both Sides, Now the emphasis is very much on the elegiac, which is all well and good, but becomes a bit samey after rather a short time.
The magic in this album is, if you are prepared to listen, in the detail. Pöntinen’s harmonic solutions in the orchestrations are often very sophisticated, and create something new from each song rather than trying to re-create ‘something like’ the original. Atmosphere is crucial, and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields strings are warmly responsive to the arranger’s intentions in each case. Depending on your Hi-Fi set-up, you may find yourself wishing the trumpet sound was a little more recessed in relation to the strings, which are present but make too little impact - especially in stereo and through smaller speakers. The little countermelodies in something like the title track Both Sides, Now aren’t equal enough to the solo, and the musical conversation never really gets going. Hardenberger’s trumpet is always worth listening to, and there would perhaps have been more moments you could have forgotten it was a trumpet if there had been just a little more air between him and us. His range of expression is tremendous however, and there is no mistaking the mood of each number. I love the thinning out of texture you get in moments such as the passages with trumpet and pizzicato bass, in My Funny Valentine for instance, and the opening of The Seagull. The Andante pour trompette is a fascinating little piece as well, written by Hardenberger’s teacher Pierre Thibaud. Lyrical tone and phrasing are superlative throughout. With the SACD surround layer the sound does open out significantly, the acoustic taking on a more prominent role and making the string contribution more all-embracing.
I hope this release does really well and rides high in the charts. It is true to its intentions and rewarding in subtle and genteel ways which will grow on you when the lights have dimmed and the children have been packed off to boot-camp. I could have wished for a bit more grit, smoke and swearing, but that’s just me.
Dominy Clements
Rewarding in subtle and genteel ways.