Martinsson; Pärt; Tamberg Trumpet Concertos
Both these discs feature Håkan Hardenberger’s indefatigable championing of contemporary trumpet music, and principally Swedish concertos. There can be few nobler pursuits than re-defining the limits of your instrument by commissioning new work or striving to perform existing pieces with new vigour. Hardenberger has achieved this peerlessly with nearly two decades of meticulously prepared and impeccably executed recordings. Yet I question, specifically in the fruits of these two discs, whether the outcome has really justified the effort. Apart from the short, quizzically ironic and Schnittke-esque Concerto Piccolo by Pärt über Bach (which curiously juxtaposes Handelian pastiche with anarchic chord clusters), the music represents little more than a montage of sure technique and an indistinct, ephemeral language. The Martinsson concerto is a case in point with its ugly and unrefined dramatic surges which leave one with a few telling effects, such as the screaming duels between soloist and orchestra, but little organic growth of the kind we expect from the finest Scandinavians. The Estonian Tamberg is more compelling in his concerto; there is a genuinely heroic ambition and the trumpet part is strikingly idiomatic, even if the lyrical intent is greater than the material.
‘Musica Vitae’, denoting an able group of 15 strings rather than a concept, is marginally more engaging, largely on account of the Lidholm Music for Strings, which successfully transforms its string quartet original from 1952. This is a taut ensemble work of Hindemithian purpose and yet with a seasoned resonance of Bartók-inspired rhythmic character and lucid counter-melody. As for Jennefelt’s Stockholm in May, I am surprised that this disjunct stream-of-consciousness found such an advocate in Hardenberger; described as seeking to explore the ‘light-heartedness’ of the performer, enervating sombreness is the prevailing mood, save for an extended cadenza. Hambraeus’s Labyrinth from 1998 is intensely crafted in a hard, if somewhat dated post-war idiom – utterly devoid of recognisable melody or patterning but memorable for the fulcrum role of the double bass. A rare spark of individual quality in recordings whose fine performances otherwise rarely manage to convince.