TURNAGE From the Wreckage. Speranza
These recordings come from Turnage’s brief LSO residency early in 2013 which included the world premiere of a major five-movement utterance inspired by the writings of Paul Celan. That work, Speranza, has since been cut so that its shape more closely resembles that of a fin de siècle symphony, albeit a gloomy one like Mahler’s Ninth. ‘L’espoir’ may yet become Turnage’s ‘Blumine’ but it seemed dangerously thin at the time and is not to be found on this disc. The surviving movements are still headed by the word for ‘hope’ in languages from Arabic through German and Irish to Hebrew, not that the promised journey of optimistic transformation ever really materialises. The hope embodied here sounds more like the will to carry on in the face of world conflicts and personal setbacks.
The first movement draws on a Palestinian anthem in music that is both accessible and tough, foregrounding woodwind and brass and making unexpected use of the cimbalom. Although the scherzo is pungent too, all driven rhythms and hard surfaces, the second, which brings in the duduk, and the finale have a tendency to meander, introducing more ‘ethnic’ material to Turnage’s own seductive bluesy sound world rather than going anywhere with it. The finale begins with touching, understated eloquence, a louder statement later on scarcely providing the hymnic catharsis one might have expected. The blunt immediacy of the Barbican acoustic leaches some of the colour out of From the Wreckage, revived (brilliantly) by its original exponent, Håkan Hardenberger. The earlier studio recording, presenting the piece alongside new music by HK Gruber and Peter Eötvös, more faithfully projects the percussive ticking effects which punctuate Turnage’s recovery from the abyss. At the same time there is much to be said for hearing Hardenberger himself on commanding form and rhythmically loosened up in a live context. The soloist takes up different instruments in turn as the mood brightens – flugelhorn, trumpet and piccolo trumpet. As usual on LSO Live, applause is excised and annotations have been amended to deal with Turnage’s changes of mind. This is territory colonised by the composer since Dispelling the Fears – whose Argo recording (10/96) also involved Harding and Hardenberger (partnered by John Wallace). Playing time may not be generous but the price is right.