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Betsy JOLAS (b.1926)
Histoires vraies: Suite concertante pour piano, trompette & orchestra (2015) [19:41]
Sally BEAMISH (b.1956)
Trumpet Concerto (2003) [23:05]
Olga NEUWIRTH (b.1968)
Miramondo Multiplo (2006) [18:10]
Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)
Roger Muraro (piano)
National Youth Orchestra of Scotland (Beamish), Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. 2014/17, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland; Malmö Concert Hall, Sweden
Reviewed in surround sound.
BIS BIS2293 SACD [61:00]

Håkan Hardenberger, apart from being the “best trumpeter in the galaxy” (The Times), is also a significant pioneer of new works for his instrument. His website lists composers who have written for Hardenberger such as Birtwistle, Brett Dean, HK Gruber, Henze, Pärt, Takemitsu, Turnage and Rolf Wallin. The three works on this disc were also all composed for him, and each happens to be by a woman. But apart from the (irrelevant) gender of the composer, and the identity of the intended performer, and the fact that they were all composed in the last sixteen years, they are each fascinating – and quite different.

The most recent of them, Histoires vraies (True Stories) by Betsy Jolas, was written in order to give Hardenberger and Roger Muraro occasion to perform together. Its title springs from the fact that the work forms the composer’s first attempt – to quote from her note – “to work with sounds selected from my daily environment and either tamed as usual through stylization or left quasi crude with their full disturbing potential”. Thus it opens with the sound of orchestral tuning, some percussive tapping, a spattering of applause, then a gradually emergent pattern of fragrant and evanescent sounds, often supported by more percussive elements from side-drum or timpani. The concertante element is at times pretty discreet, trumpet and piano floating in and out of the texture as a part of it rather than for soloistic display, though the display grows as the piece progresses. It never offers less than an intriguing palette of intimate, sometimes shimmering sounds, or perhaps one should say of unfolding stories, given this work’s and the disc’s title. The solo trumpet is often given evocative, nocturnal music – it must be difficult to avoid any hint in the slow music of a trumpet concerto of Copland’s Quiet City. From about 15:15, where there is a brief shared cadenza – or perhaps it’s just the next “histoire” - for the two soloists.

Sally Beamish tells us she found inspiration for her concerto in Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities which, in her own words, “reflects aspects of city life: the organised architecture but seeming randomness; the sparkling though shabby beauty, in contrast to the dark, sordid underbelly –rusting pipes, waste, squalor.” The first movement she describes as an “urban aubade” and there is a cityscape morning song about the atmosphere, or the “awakening bustle”. It sounds like a slow, drowsy start before that, until a cock-crow entry from the solo trumpet sounds a briefly incongruous farmyard note. There is an appealing shining climax at 5.50 just before the movement’s close. The second movement is, again as Beamish’s helpful note says, “a dance parade” with “a slow dream-like waltz” yet “recalling a smoky jazz club”. As this hints there is some attractive orchestral writing, and the solo trumpet has at times a vocal, even melismatic quality – in terms of both the notes and the various timbres deployed by the player. The finale gives the percussion (including some scrap metal and scaffolding pipes) its head, and the solo trumpet a cadenza with some wide leaps, here impeccably tuned by Hardenberger.

Finally, in …miramondo multiplo…, (the six dots and lower case are part of the title), Olga Neuwirth incorporates stylistic and melodic references, for instance from her own works and the music of Handel, but also to the performance style of the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, lending each movement a musical atmosphere of its own. As a result, the concerto has been described as “a sequence of five very different musical stories”. The five movement titles describe the character of each: aria dell'angelo, aria della memoria, aria del sangue freddo, aria della pace, and aria del piacere. That might suggest more heterogeneity than I heard, as the work sounds more integrated than those titles imply. There is a large orchestra, with which the trumpet interacts quite closely much of the time, from the opening loud dischord from which a solo cadential passage emerges. This is the longest movement at 4:11, and ends with a virtuoso raspberry (a fluttered-tongued glissando). There is gentle irreverence elsewhere, including those aforementioned quotations. Neuwirth was a trumpet player in her youth, and we can sense her love of and respect for the instrument.

Håkan Hardenberger plays each work quite superbly – brass playing of this calibre can never be taken for granted, and each composer must have been delighted with such incomparable advocacy for her work. The conductor in all three works is Martyn Brabbins, whose credentials in the field of contemporary music are well-known, as he has conducted so many world premières. He and his two orchestras sound thoroughly prepared. The surround sound is excellent as ever form this company, even though the balance in the Beamish concerto places the solo trumpet a little more forward in the mix than one might expect in the concert hall. The booklet notes could be more helpful and consistent – those on Betsy Jolas’s piece are a little thin and cryptic – but do offer just enough of a way into each work. Not that any of these pieces is especially elusive or rebarbative, and while each is basically a serious work, each also offers an element of fun. Another intriguing addition to the catalogue of contemporary music from BIS. If you are curious, do investigate.

Roy Westbrook

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