Proms Chamber Music 4: Håkan Hardenberger, HK Gruber … Kurt Weill, Kurt Schwertsik…

“The most intrepid of trumpeters, Håkan Hardenberger is joined by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and some special friends for a celebration of the music of Kurt Weill and of proponents of the subversive and at times irreverent ‘Third Viennese School’, among them Kurt Schwertsik and HK Gruber, who appears as vocalist.” [BBC Proms website]

Tobias Broström
Kurt Weill
Songs, including from The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
Kurt Schwertsik
Adieu Satie [two selections]
HK Gruber
Three MOB Pieces

Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet), HK Gruber (chansonnier), Helen Crayford (piano), Mats Bergström (banjo & guitar), Claudia Buder (accordion); Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 8 August, 2016
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Håkan HardenbergerPhotograph: Marco BorggreveThis decidedly relaxed and enjoyable Proms Chamber Music hour opened with a journey encapsulated in Russia’s first satellite: Sputnik. Composed for the opening of Malmö’s new concert hall last year (was this the UK premiere?), Tobias Broström’s piece whizzed, spiralled and spluttered for five minutes, with Håkan Hardenberger’s piercing piccolo trumpet leading strings and piano. For Jan Lundgren’s The Seagull (as arranged by Roland Pöntinen) Hardenberg swapped to a bugle, with suitably mournful lowering of tone to equate to Chekhov’s tragic tale.

Pöntinen was also responsible for the arrangement of the first of seven Kurt Weill numbers, ‘Speak Low’ from One Touch of Venus (Hardenberger now on muted trumpet), after which Hardenberger introduced HK Gruber with the explanation that he’d only agreed to take part if Hardenberger would sing with him. As it happened, the multi-tasking almost fell apart in ‘Cannon Song’ when Hardenberger stumbled over his vocal contribution but recovered well before transferring back to the trumpet (in a typically British way, the audience greeted the slip with its most heartfelt acclamation).

There is real danger in inviting Gruber, in that it can lead to you being completely upstaged, as happened both when Gruber was interviewed (about his MOB pieces) and, especially, in Ira Gershwin’s words set by Weill: the skittish ‘Song of the Rhineland’ about how everything is better in Germany.

HK GruberPhotograph: Jon SuperUnfortunately, apart from Petroc Trelawny’s request for Gruber to explain the thinking behind the second of his Three MOB Pieces – ‘After Heine’ – the names of the other pieces were omitted entirely (they are ‘Patrol’ and ‘Verse’, the latter marked “soft medium rock”). They are insidiously ingratiating works: deceptive café music that has a lasting quality, charmingly scored for Hardenberger and ensemble, including Mats Bergström and Claudia Buder who will join him in for Gruber’s Busking this Wednesday night. Buder had been joined by a string quartet for the final two movements of Kurt Schwertsik’s Adieu Satie, the gentle ‘Gymopédie’ and the more slapstick ‘Clownerie acrobatique’.

Amidst the changing line-up of players, which developed out of Hardenberger’s conflation of both sputnik (meaning ‘travelling companion’) and busking it was fitting to end with all musicians (with Gruber conducting) for Broström’s arrangement of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.6. It was surely in the spirit of such relaxed collaboration that Hardenberger’s miss-hit final note did not affect the nature of the whole; indeed it was appropriate for street music, the sun streaming through Cadogan Hall’s windows.

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