DEAN Dramatis Personae FRANCESCONI Hard Pace
I can’t find any evidence to corroborate the booklet note’s suggestion that Brett Dean’s trumpet concerto Dramatis personae is a preparatory work for the opera Hamlet, which opened two weeks after this disc landed on my desk. But the idea is a fertile one nonetheless. Not only is Dean’s piece as theatrical as its title would suggest, it also has a compelling downwards trajectory right from the ominous, Dohnányi-like bass melody that takes over soon after the concerto has pattered its way into being, rather like Dean’s Viola Concerto does.
The first movement, ‘Fall of a Superhero’, maintains a rhythmic groove pretty much throughout its 13 minute span. Hardenberger’s trumpet moans, whines and cries with uncannily human qualities in the following ‘Soliloquy’ and seems haunted by responsibilities it doesn’t want in the final ‘The Accidental Revolutionary’. Hamlet undertones there, for sure. But just as interesting is how the trumpet – the lonely prince or not – pursues or abandons flawed relationships with dramatis personae from the orchestra.
Luca Francesconi’s concerto Hard Pace couldn’t be more different but is just as special, perhaps even more so. The composer himself talks in the booklet about Miles Davis, which rings alarm bells, but it needn’t: his love for Davis delivers the very opposite of musical tokenism but, instead, extreme care with Francesconi’s own sort of poetry, in which the trumpet dare only speak, during some exquisite passages, in isolated notes like faltering lines drawn on a wall. Textures are spare, harmonies are rich, tension is high – not least as the trumpet is pressured into a treacherous ascent at the end of the first movement (the mirror image of Dean’s fallen hero). The piece’s distilled atmosphere and harmonic calligraphy reminds me of Henze’s Requiem, but it might just be that I’ve not heard trumpet-playing like it since Hardenbeger’s recording of that piece. With Storgårds and the GSO, it’s a dream team.