I so love going to Birmingham Symphony Hall. It’s such a magnificant auditorium. The accoustics in there have to be heard to be believed. It’s a shame, then, that so few people turned up to listen to Håkan Hardenberger and Simon Preston perform in The Trumpet Shall Sound.
Actually, there were probably a good few hundred people there but Symphony Hall is so large that there did seem to be many empty seats, however you’d have thought that more people would have turned up to listen to two world-class virtuosi perform.
Most of the music was completely unfamiliar to me. There were a couple of pieces in the second half that were quite well known, but otherwise most of it was of the contemporary classical ilk – something I’ve not spent any time listening to at all.
The first piece they played made me a little concerned that I’d perhaps made a bit of an error of judgement in buying the tickets. They started with a bizarre piece by Marius Constant called Alleluias. It started out nicely enough with Håkan sounding out some lovely heraldic fanfares, then the Organ joins in very quietly and it eventually decends into a completely bizarre series of seemingly random notes. This sort of stuff really isn’t for me, though I could appreciate the technical wizardry employed throughout. Simon was, at times, playing the organ with his fists, the music calling for hand-fulls of keys to be pressed all at once!
Thankfully, the second piece was absolutely magnificent! It was an organ solo by William Bolcom called Free Fantasia on ‘O Zion Haste’ and ‘How Firm a Foundation’. It was quite improvisatory in parts, but the general hymn-like qualities of the piece sounded absolutely wonderful on this organ. How this one instrument can have so many musical colours I have no idea, and Simon played it beautifully. I wouldn’t normally chose to listen to organ music, but I’d be more than happy to get something like this.
The final piece of the first half was even better. Okna (Windows) by Petr Eben is a lovely four movement work that was inspired by Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in the Synagogue of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Centre in Jerusalem (can you tell I bought the program?). The four movements are named after the four primary colours set into the windows – blue, green, red and gold and take their musical lead from the inspiration behind these colours. Some of it is improvisatory too, and quite jazzy in parts. They even lit the stage in the required colour to set the tone, and the performance was spectacular. I definately want to get this on CD.
After the interval (when I drank the worst half-pint of Tetley’s I’ve ever tasted) we headed into more familiar musical territory. Håkan brought out his piccolo trumpet and played through Toccata by Giambattista Martini, a much more traditional organ/trumpet piece and really showed of his technical and musical ability. They followed this with the famous Adagio in G minor by Albinoni/Giazotto which was utterly beautiful, even if one or two notes were a little out of tune here and there. How I wish I even had half the ability of this guy!
There followed a pure cheese arrangement of popular tunes on the organ called The Brothers Gershwin by Howard Cable. I normally hate playing selections and this definitely fitted into the “corny” category. It was entertaining enough though.
Next we headed into a sultry foxtrot courtesy of Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion. This was beautifully played on a muted trumpet by Håkan and just goes to show that it’s the quiet stuff that shows the real class of a quality player. Lovely.
There followed the world premier of a very recently composed piece by young percussionist and composer Tobias Broström. They played an interesting piece called The Last Chord, and very good it was too. Not really my thing but it’s definitely worth listening to some more stuff like this. He was there in the audience too, and mounted the stage to take some well-deserved applause.
The finalé was an excellent piece by Naji Hakim called Finalé from Sonata for Trumpet and Organ. It was actually composed especially for this pair back in 1994 and I can see why they playing it. A thoroughly enjoyable modern piece that shows off the versatility of both instruments brilliantly.
Some enthusiastic applause convinced them to play an encore. Håkan announced who it was, though I couldn’t pick out what he said. I gather it was something by a Swedish composer and it was my favourite piece of the evening. A sublime, beautiful ballad that finished the evening off wonderfully. No fireworks, just wonderfully controlled, quiet playing that displayed why Håkan Hardenberger is such a world-reknowned trumpet player. If anyone knows what this is then please let me know, because I would love to get this on CD.
So, an evening of fantastic musical treats of pieces that were mostly outside my normal choice. I’ll hopefully be attempting to see these two play again sometime and I recommend that other classical music enthusiasts also do the same.