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The Scene of the Crime
André JOLIVET (1905-1974)
Heptade (1970) [17:40]
Joe DUDDELL (b. 1972)
Catch (2011, rev 2017) [13:24]
Tobias BROSTRÖM (b. 1978)
Dream Variations (2011) [11:28]
Daniel BÖRTZ (b. 1943)
Dialogo 4 – Ricordo (1998-99) [13:07]
Brett DEAN (b. 1961)
the scene of the crime … (2017) [12:29]
Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)
Colin Currie (percussion)
rec. 2018, Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK

Hot on the heels of last year’s stunning account of Steve Reich’s Drumming (review), the first release on his own label, percussionist Colin Currie now presents this intriguing survey of contemporary trumpet and percussion fare, in league with long-time collaborator Håkan Hardenberger. With the exception of André Jolivet’s Heptade, which once featured on an old Erato recording it’s the first time on disc for the other four works, three of which were written in the present decade.

Currie identifies Heptade as THE “substantial classic (for)…. trumpets and percussion”; if this is so it is surprising it has not been recorded more often. Essentially a suite in seven movements it certainly covers a lot of ground, from percussion writing in the opening Allegro that recalls Varèse’s ionisation, via a snare-dominated Vivo with a virtuosic trumpet part that alternates fragmented cries with jazz-influenced gestures en route to a Cantante movement which pits slow moving, mysterious gong sounds against a sinuous muted trumpet melody which strongly evokes Messiaen; this may remind discerning listeners that both composers were once members of La Jeune France, the 1930s movement which provided an antidote to the perceived neo-classical excesses of Les Six. The material in the following Veemente juxtaposes more acerbic, agitated trumpet against riffing tomtoms and whistle blasts, while in the Maestoso movement the long trumpet notes and fragmented drum interventions are thrillingly caught by producer/engineer Marion Schwebel. The two concluding movements feature a cat-and-mouse race between the two protagonists in the spontaneous Sempre stringendo and a jazz-tinged Vivo e ritmico finale. Heptade indubitably involves some viscerally exciting playing, although I found its music ultimately rather angular and objective. However, it is certainly crafted with guile and imagination and in this brilliant account it is easy to see why Currie regards it as the ultimate primer for the virtuosic potential of this particular instrumental combination.

Joe Duddell’s Catch is one of a number of compositions he has written with Currie in mind. Democratically conceived, with marimba and trumpet carrying equal weight, the attractive dance-like patterns and interlocking figures of its outer movements are separated by an elegiac, mournful central panel, whose long opening flugelhorn solo eventually encounters gentle staccato chords from the marimba.

Also in three sections is the Swede Tobias Broström’s enigmatic Dream Variations, which extends the percussion sound palette to include vibraphone and cowbells. Its opening section features a tone-row presented on vibes with gentle washes of tam-tam, before a high-flying trumpet weaves a wiry melodic line around Currie’s appealing textures. Knocking gestures predominate at the start of the central ‘Mirror’ before seamlessly morphing into chiming vibes, while the trumpet material seems to paraphrase its haunting material from the first section. The sense of the oddly but impossibly familiar persists in the concluding Déjà vu section, whose occasionally odd distortions complement rather than disrupt the piece’s pulse. Both Duddell’s and Brostrom’s refreshing works are characterised by fastidious craftsmanship and abundant melodic invention. Nor do they pall on repetition. One becomes almost blasé about the extraordinary virtuosity and musicianship of Currie and Hardenberger.

Daniel Börtz’s Dialogo 4 – Ricordo presents a more challenging listen. Hardenberger projects a series of slow, pianissimo single notes and brief phrases separated by silences, chimes and gentle tappings on the bongos. This eerie, oddly menacing opening is gravid with implication. The trumpet gradually begins to assert itself more trenchantly in this dialogue until the point when the subtly melodic tuned percussion is replaced by a series of more forceful, aggressive tattoos on the drums, and the material of each participant becomes more confrontational and ‘opinionated’. Eventually the marimba is reabsorbed into the texture and the trumpet seems to hit on the melody and acquiescence it has sought all along, before resorting to three loud, insistent sustained notes, which are repeated at the work’s conclusion almost inaudibly. While the piece features yet more astonishing playing, this listener found Dialogo 4 – Ricordo something of a tough nut to crack.

I recently had the great pleasure of reviewing Brett Dean’s operatic treatment of Hamlet, and his work ‘The Scene of the Crime’, which concludes this recital revisits the play, specifically in terms of the references to ‘Drums and Trumpets’ in stage directions found in early editions of the play. The new piece does not draw on the opera’s music, however. Interestingly the new title also cunningly refers to Malmö, the Swedish setting of the work’s premiere, which lies just across the water from where Claudius supposedly ‘did the deed’. The brooding opening trumpet solo is accompanied by unworldly sounds from an undergrowth of drums – Dean really does have a fantastic ear for percussion writing – creaking doors, rustling branches, distant armies underpin the initially tentative, wary trumpet. One knows something is going to happen. But the work doesn’t explode straight away, there is a mobile, fast moving, rather hi-energy section which mutates into a cymbal pulse and a muted trumpet solo, Then the mute comes off, and stuttering, brief pauses hint at action. Dean ratchets up the tension superbly until an unexpectedly jazzy tune emerges over what sound like phenomenally complicated drum figurations. The impact of the mute’s subsequent removal is telling, before the piece romps to a breathless conclusion.

If trumpet and percussion strikes one as something of a niche combination, or the repertoire on paper looks forbiddingly contemporary, readers should have no fears on either count. Currie and Hardenberger have fashioned an enterprising, entertaining and exciting programme of music that is as attractive as it is, in some cases, challenging. These two astonishing musicians are caught at the peak of their form, while the recording is thrillingly immediate. Those prepared to take the plunge are unlikely to regret the decision.

Richard Hanlon

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