Philharmonia Orchestra/Andris Nelsons – Bruckner 8 – Håkan Hardenberger plays Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Nobody knows de trouble I see

Nobody knows de trouble I see
Symphony No.8 in C minor [1890 version, edited Robert Haas]

Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Andris Nelsons

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: 6 December, 2015
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Håkan HardenbergerPhotograph: Marco BorggreveBernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-70) composed this jazz-influenced one-movement trumpet concerto in 1954 – the title refers to the well-known Spiritual ‘Nobody knows de trouble I see’, which is heard after the trumpeter (using a mute) has introduced the work over a soft yet jagged accompaniment. The theme is presented by alto saxophone but thereafter it is difficult to recognise it beneath the welter of orchestral effect.

Håkan Hardenberger had not the slightest difficulty in leading the sequences with their widely differentiated scoring. The soloist is supplied with a selection of effects – including flutter-tonguing. There is also a screaming effect supported by the orchestral trumpets that is like Stan Kenton at his wildest. The variations are each in a different orchestration and at a different tempo. The most comfortable of them is where the music makes its way forward as if played by a swing band but it soon dissipates via the soloist who plays a brief reference to the melody. The quiet ending is imaginative and mysterious to close music full of surprising effects; organ and piano make unexpected appearances, the saxophones are unified and the percussion players have fun.

Bruckner completed the first version of his Eighth Symphony in 1887. He substantially revised the first two movements for performance in 1890 but more or less left the other two alone, yet others had him agree to alterations and cuts in them. In 1939 Robert Haas published Bruckner’s revised score but restored the missing music to the last two movements, the version conducted by Andris Nelsons. In 1955 Leopold Nowak published the (cut) 1890 revision describing it as “clean”. I take issue with this since Nowak took Haas’s printing plates and altered them, removing the music that Haas had so painstakingly replaced.

Andris NelsonsPhotograph: Marco BorggreveIt was gratifying in this Philharmonia performance to hear carefully-calculated balancing since in Bruckner brass can be over-powerful and often the strings get swamped. Nelsons avoided this and with something left in reserve for the bigger climaxes. Given this grand, carefully integrated sound, Nelsons’s expressive way with Bruckner’s invention was given a firm basis.

The first movement was taken broadly, there was space for eloquent phrasing and the music moved forward in an unhurried manner. Bruckner’s imaginative revision whereby he turned a conventionally triumphant ending to the movement to a quiet one was a stroke of genius and Nelsons allowed the music to flow gently to its poignant close. As the work progressed Nelsons’s personality began to impose itself: the Scherzo started firmly enough but after the announcement of the main themes the lovely countersubject with its close-harmony woodwind lingered unexpectedly. The careful shaping of the section was some compensation but freedom of tempo was also evident in the Trio. The Adagio was even more expressive, it was also very beautiful, full of beguiling phrasing, ample recompense for the lingering. By the Finale Nelsons had ceased to use his baton and after the initial onslaught this assisted him in caressing shaping that was more expressive still.

The last movement is somewhat episodic and from the moment the slower second subject arrived and was taken very broadly it seemed that attention to sections was overcoming forward motion – full marks for great sensitivity but here, even more than in the Adagio, there was a sense of indulgence. By giving loving and detailed attention to every phrase the music sometimes came across as languorous; however the vividness of the climaxes and in particular the radiance of the final pages ensured that a sense of triumph was achieved.

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