LSO/Harding Håkan Hardenberger – Wagner, HK Gruber & Dvořák

Tristan und Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod
HK Gruber
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)

London Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Harding

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 3 June, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Daniel Harding. Photpgraph:  K. MiuraDaniel Harding’s account of the ‘Prelude and Liebestod’ from “Tristan und Isolde” was performed by an LSO on superb form. This was a reading that was very satisfying on an emotional level too, successfully encompassing the spirit of the whole music-drama. The broadly paced ‘Prelude’ was full of suspense, Harding drawing playing of real intensity – especially from the strings – by degrees deftly raising the emotional temperature as the music progressed towards the great climax. The last long-breathed pages were very touching, plangent winds and sonorous double basses memorably underscoring the mood. The ‘Liebestod’ was equally fine at a similarly broad tempo; allied to consummate playing the performance conveyed to perfection the music’s transcendence.

Håkan Hardenberger. Photograph: hakanhardenberger.comHK Gruber’s Aerial made quite an impact at the 1999 BBC Proms, and it seems every bit as impressive now as then. Håkan Hardenberger, for whom the work was written, understands just how to project it to maximum effect and is fully up to all the technical challenges, whether he be playing conventional trumpet, piccolo trumpet, or cow horn. The performance of the first movement (‘Done with the compass – Done with the Chart!’) conjured up a simultaneously desolate and yet beautiful landscape, and it was striking how Hardenberger was able to draw such lyrical sounds from a cow horn, touchingly accompanied by strings and tuba. The second movement (‘Gone Dancing’) was also finely done, its variegated rhythms and colours exhilaratingly projected by all concerned. The soloist’s very last note – receding into the distance, as he himself did – drew to a tranquil conclusion a piece that is both moving and virtuosic, and one that still packs quite a punch. Gruber was clearly delighted with the performance.

There was a real sense of mystery at the start of Harding’s account of Dvorak’s Seventh, with burnished cellos and double basses casting dark shadows. Deeply searching, too, was the development, in which there was some very poetic playing. The conductor harnessed the players’ talents to great effect as he took the first movement towards a highly tensile conclusion. In the sweet expanses of the slow movement the LSO shone further, notably Joseph Sanders on oboe and Andrew Marriner on clarinet; and after an attractively lilting performance of the scherzo, Harding galvanised the musicians into a big-boned performance of the finale, culminating in an overwhelming apotheosis.

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