Trumpets! – London Sinfonietta (10 May)

Canzon in Echo Duodecimi Toni
Interact [London premiere]
Zeitfluren [London premiere]

John Wallace (trumpet)


Scottish Academy Brass

London Sinfonietta
HK Gruber
Peter Wiegold

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 10 May, 2003
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

We were among trumpet, brass and woodwind soloists, two timpanists, a handful of strings and six ethnic sound-makers.

Three pieces were ’modern’; one other combined tribal traditions with western-style improvisation. A further glorious feature was a fanfare from 1597.

Abbos, from Uzbekistan, brought three trumpets [karnays], two sturdy tambourines [doiras] and one pipe [surnay]. Each karnay is a staggering 7 feet or so. From its glittering head of burnished copper comes one note only – arriving in short rasps, booming rhythms or a powerful, prolonged blast.

Interspersed through the evening was “The Great Wheel”. The Abbos feature. In three parts credited to Peter Wiegold, “realised with Abbos and London Sinfonietta”. Wiegold’s the devisor rather than the composer. Part 1 [non-devised] began the evening. Parts 2 and 3 [part traditional / part improvised / part devised] came immediately after the interval, with no break between them. “Great Wheel 1” introduced the ethnic instruments with panache. “Great Wheel 2” brought a sparring confrontation between East and West – as trumpet and trombone individually brayed against the karnays’ combined majesty. In “Great Wheel 3” East met West in a spectacle of unity. Processing in a stately circle, elemental nationalism met sophisticated improvisation joyously as the karnays, brandished aloft, shone like golden lilies at the crest of some resplendent tepee.

The Gabrieli gave sheer aesthetic joy. The Scottish Academy Brass’s playing was ringingly precise – blazing exultantly in virtuosity so brilliant and dextrous as to seem quite nonchalant.

The bulk of the concert was under the direction of HK Gruber. His hand movements were spare and economical, but spot on to the pulse of the music and any change of volume, timbre or pitch.

He is a major conductor, with a major sense of musicality. He gave the London Sinfonietta freedom to display the discipline of their musicianship. The players know that it’s a privilege to play with him – and the great showman acclaims each one at the end of the piece.

Stuart MacRae’s Interact is a two-movement trumpet concerto – a London Sinfonietta commission. John Wallace played with bravura and dazzling aplomb. The first movement gave us sparing pointillism and pointed precision – in the manner of Stockhausen. Irreverently, but not disrespectfully, I heard drips from water taps – irregular and at different pitches. They caught one unawares sonically – often alertly and wittily. The second movement was sober and sonorous – a cool-headed rhapsody that gave lyricism the occasional distant nod.

Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s Notturno was specially written for the London Sinfonietta. This is nine minutes of tempered lament. The piece hardly varies in volume or pace but deepens in intensity like some miniature Seven Last Words on the Cross. Its haunting resonance was flowingly underscored by a taped voice-melody – a distant, restrained, male sorrowing that made words superfluous.

Gruber’s own work – Zeitfluren – has two movements: Night [Nachstaub] and Day [Anderstag]. On first hearing, Nachstaub impressed as a grave nocturne with sombre undertones, deepening. Anderstag, on the other hand, is dazzling but tiresome. Its exuberance is relentless and, ultimately, joyless – overstaying its welcome. [Gruber has already revised the piece once.] The playing was brilliant.

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