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Reviews: Turnage: Speranza & From the Wreckage - Hardenberger, Harding

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Site review by Castor November 4, 2013
Performance:   Sonics:  
Mark-Anthony Turnage has been amongst the vanguard of modern composers in Britain since the 1980s and with good reasons. His wide ranging eclectic style includes the influence of Stravinsky, Britten and Henze to name but three 'classical' composers each audibly present in the two works on this SACD as well as other musical genres such as jazz and rock. This diversity, coupled with his complete assurance in composing for a large orchestra, has resulted in a considerable body of compositions that, in spite of their uncompromising modernity, communicate with all but the most conservative audiences.

The two works on this LSO Live release represent two of Turnage's most recent and ambitious works.

'From the Wreckage' is a Trumpet Concerto written for the Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, the soloist on this disc, and it received its first performance in 2005 in Helsinki. The trajectory of the Concerto is the familiar one of an emotional journey from darkness to light (cf. Mahler's 5th Symphony). Though written in a single movement (lasting15'.52'' on this recording) it falls into three sections whose divisions are marked by the soloist moving from a flugelhorn with its dark timbre to a standard trumpet and finally to a piccolo trumpet for the piece's final section. The orchestra provides a constantly shifting background to the soloist's frequently meandering lines and Turnage's acknowledged debt to Miles Davis is often apparent in this unsettling yet compelling concerto. Daniel Harding and the LSO provide splendid support to Hardenberger's obviously definitive account of this concerto and the clear, close-miked Barbican recording has plenty of impact. For the record this 5.1 multichannel hybrid SACD is not recorded in DSD - unlike previous LSO Live releases - but 24bit/96kHz PCM.

The main work on the disc is the world premiere recording of 'Speranza', a large scale 40 minute orchestral work in four movements (a fifth was dropped after the first performance). Turnage originally intended to write a work about suicide, but at the time of embarking on this LSO commission he was deeply immersed in the poetry of Jewish-Romanian Paul Célan, a World War II concentration camp survivor. The impression made by Célan's writings resulted in a change of direction for the composer who then decided to explore the concept of hope in its widest philosphical sense. The titles of each of the four movements of 'Speranza' mean hope in a different language: (I) Amal (Arabic), (ii) Hoffen (German), (iii) Dóchas (Gaelic) and (iv) Tikvah (Hebrew).

These titles are in no way prescriptive, and Turnage's use of a Palestinian anthem and Jewish folk songs permeate the whole piece. The orchestration has a Mahlerian extravagance and in addition to an exotic percussion section, the orchestra also includes a cimbalon and the haunting sound of the duduk a traditional Armenian instrument related to the oboe. There is little of sense of optimism conveyed in the deeply felt music of 'Speranza', and even the angry third movement scherzo performed with great virtuosity by the LSO has a sardonic quality that sits uneasily with any obvious concept of hope.

This searching account by Daniel Harding and the LSO of what is surely one of Turnage's finest works to date does the composer proud.

Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and