From Sweden

Liquid Marble
Bridge – Trumpet Concerto No.1
Light of Light
Time and the Bell

Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)

Trinity Boys Choir

BBC Symphony Orchestra
John Storgårds

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 18 February, 2005
Venue: BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale, London

Once again the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s home proved to be a haven for anyone wanting to hear something outside of the mainstream. All four works were worth catching, and will prove so again when broadcast, and two of them proved to be rather more than that.

Given as part of the ongoing “From Sweden” project (see link below), this studio concert’s first half contained the most consistently compelling music.

Anders Hillborg (born 1954) seems to have a penchant for tantalising titles (his Exquisite Corpse was played at last year’s Proms). Liquid Marble (1994) is written for an orchestra (a youth orchestra originally) without any percussion (nice to find a composer who can do without this resource!) and is a soaring and dramatic piece that often stretches to infinity and with woodwind-writing that is sometimes suggestive of a fireworks display. Hillborg’s invention is sufficiently interesting to sustain repetition and amidst the bracing fortissimos are some beautifully lyrical moments (not least a brief solo for cor anglais); Liquid Marble is a really imaginative piece suggesting sea, mountains and bird-cries.

The 25-minute Trumpet Concerto (1998) by Rolf Martinsson (born 1956) also made a big impression. Its three movements linked by two cadenzas have enough contrasting material in each to effectively make it ‘three movements in one’ (and the cadenzas are brief). Occasionally the soundworld is all-purpose but Martinsson’s material is vividly communicative, sonorously and decorously scored (not least the eerie use of wineglasses!), and the invention has a filmic appeal (certainly atmospheric, sometimes bluesy), the composer allowing himself some ‘purple passages’ within a range of lyrical and rhythmic entrees. Håkan Hardenberger’s virtuosity was fearless and near-perfect, although he might have dropped his loudest dynamic down a peg in this unrestricted acoustic.

The second half’s pair of work’s proved less consistent. Karin Rehnqvist (born 1957) has dedicated “Light of Light” to the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anna Lindh, who was murdered in September 2003. The use of boys’ voices is meant to be a signal of hope; the texts include Medieval and Biblical sources. “Light of Light” is attractively bright and glinting with darker undercurrents, and although the ballad style of writing, including folk elements, is directly expressive, by the time the final section is reached of this 14-minute work, the style has ‘lapsed’ into early Sibelius – a wonderful model, of course, but rather anonymous on this occasion, not least because the opening part is rather arresting.

Time and the Bell (1998) introduced Anders Hultqvist (born 1955) – and did so with spectacular, somewhat heraldic brass writing and thrilling cross rhythms. However, over 17 minutes, quite how we then got to the striking-in-itself slow string-writing (suggestive of ancient script pushing itself into contemporary view), then to the static, uneventful ‘dialogue’ of instruments and, finally, to solo chimes (an effect easy to get tired of) is for the moment something to ponder.

No claims were made in the programme for any one of these works being a UK premiere. The BBCSO and Trinity Boys Choir responded superbly to the wholly excellent John Storgårds, a Finnish conductor (born 1963) who does all the right things to achieve first-class results; certainly he had the performing musicians on his side. Maida Vale concerts come with the safety net of retakes; on this occasion none were deemed necessary. Anders Hillborg aside, the composers were present.

  • Concert broadcast in “Hear and Now” on 26 February at 11 p.m.
  • From Sweden

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