Jaap Nico HAMBURGER (b.?)
Chamber Symphony No.1 ‘Remember to Forget’1 [16:59]
Chamber Symphony No.2 ‘Children's War Diaries’2 [15:27]
Ensemble Caprice/Matthias Maute1
Orchestre Métropolitain/Vincent de Kort2
rec. Église St-Augustin, Mirabel, Québec, 17-18 November 20191
and live Maison symphonique de Montréal 2 November 20192. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/192 (wav) press preview
LEAF MUSIC LM235
The word ‘polymath’ is pretty frequently bandied about these days, but it
really does seem to apply to Jaap Hamburger – clinical professor of
medicine, heart surgeon and composer in residence Mécénat Musica, is a
distinguished combination. The Canadian label Leaf recently released a
recording of his Piano Concerto (LM238). Like LM235, that seems to be
available as a download only from some dealers – mp3, 16- and 24-bit
offer both mp3 and CD and it’s available on CD for North American
ArkivMusic. As I write up this review, the new chamber symphonies
recording is download only from Presto, but on CD from Amazon UK and
I enjoyed hearing the Piano Concerto, a powerful work which I’ve seen
compared to Shostakovich, though not as memorable. I have to say that I don’t expect to return to it
as often as to Shostakovich, and it does make for a very short album – on
which subject, see also below.
The two Chamber Concertos again don’t add up to a very substantial album.
The music here, too, is generally powerful, both works having connections
to the holocaust. The first, a commission from the Turning Point Ensemble,
follows the life of the composer Ligeti, the first part referring to his
survival when members of his family were killed in Auschwitz, the second to
his escape from Communist Hungary to Vienna and then Hamburg, the metaphor
of the train journey inherent in both parts.
I have to declare that I’m no great lover of Ligeti’s music, though I have
occasionally been surprised to hear something on the radio only to discover
that it was by him. Some of Hamburger’s tribute to Ligeti – and, indeed,
some of his Piano Concerto – comes dangerously close, for me, to being
noise for its own sake. It never quite crosses the line, however; indeed,
at times I was reminded more of Bartók and Janáček than of Ligeti.
The title ‘chamber symphony’ throws up another composer’s name, of course,
that of Schoenberg before he became too obtuse – for me – to hear with any
degree of enjoyment. As with the Schoenberg Chamber Symphonies, I found
myself constantly on the edge of discomfort turning to distress. The train
motif is rather different from its treatment in Steve Reich’s Different Trains, with Hamburger’s music more powerful than Reich,
but ultimately not quite as moving or enduring.
The second work refers in five sections to the diaries of teenagers
murdered in the war. Its grim subject was inspired partly by the composer’s
mother, who, as a teenager, survived the concentration camp, and wrote
about the experience in her autobiography. Visiting the Children’s Memorial
at Yad Vashem, when his mother was honoured there, was the inspiration for
another powerful work. It’s not comfortable music – but it isn’t meant to
be. A primeval scream marks the end of the work.
I listened to both albums in 24/192 format, and it’s very good. The booklet
which comes with the Piano Concerto is a very minimalist affair – at least,
that’s true of the version which came with my press preview and which you
can find at
Naxos Music Library.
The booklet for the Chamber Concertos is a little more informative, but I
had to dig around beyond the booklet to find out about Hamburger’s ‘other’
life as a heart surgeon. Even so, I haven’t been able to find the year of
Both Leaf albums of Hamburger’s music offer short value: the Piano
Concerto lasts just 22 minutes, the Chamber Symphonies 32 minutes. That
hasn’t resulted in reduction in price, at least for UK purchasers, with the
CD of the Piano Concerto costing £17.96 when I checked, and the downloads
ranging from £7.49 (mp3) to £14.00 (24-bit). The CD of the chamber
symphonies is more reasonably priced at £10, but it's still rather steep
when the two albums together add up to less than an hour of music. Music to
stream, perhaps from
Naxos Music Library, then.