Monday 25 November 2013

Daniel Harding and the London Symphony Orchestra give a sensitive performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s immensely impressive new orchestral work, Speranza, on a new release from LSO Live

Mark-Anthony Turnage (b. 1960) was born in Britain and studied with Oliver Knussen,  John Lambert and Gunther Schuller. With the encouragement of Hans Werner Henze, he wrote his first opera for the Munich Biennale festival, Greek, which received a triumphant premiere in 1988. The many ensuing productions worldwide established Turnage's international reputation. The important works that followed, Three Screaming Popes, Kai, Momentum and Drowned Out, came from a four-year period as Composer in Association with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, from 1989 to 1993.

Since then Turnage has been Composer in Association at English National Opera and the first Associate Composer for the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Turnage’s music, which is often forthright and confrontational, has absorbed jazz elements into a contemporary classical style, a style which, nevertheless, is capable of expressing deep tenderness, especially emotions associated with loss.

In 2002, Sir Simon Rattle conducted Blood on the Floor at one of his first concerts as Chief Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, his trumpet concerto From the Wreckage was written for soloist Hakan Hardenberger, who brought it to the 2005 Proms after its Helsinki premiere and his first violin concerto, Mambo, Blues and Tarantella written for Christian Teztlaff and the LPO with Vladimir Jurowski and premiered at the South Bank Centre in September 2008, with subsequent performances in Stockholm and Toronto from the co-commissioning partners, while his viola concerto, On Opened Ground was commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra for Yuri Bashmet.

Turnage was also appointed Mead Composer in Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 2006 until 2010 for whom he wrote two new works, From All Sides and Chicago Remains.

A new cello concerto for Paul Watkins received its premiere in 2012 while, in spring 2013, Turnage was featured composer with the London Symphony Orchestra, for whom he wrote a new work Speranza.

It is the substantial orchestral work, Speranza, that is featured on a new SACD release from LSO Live coupled with From the Wreckage and performed by Daniel Harding and the London Symphony Orchestra with trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger

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From the Wreckage (2005) was written for Håkan Hardenberger and is in a single movement that reveals a journey, through inner struggle, from a state of darkness into one of light. It is percussion that opens the piece before a trumpet enters in a motif that moves around rapidly.  Soon the full orchestra joins in a sonorous theme that has a weight in the lower sounds of the orchestra, underpinned by the lower strings and timpani. When the solo trumpet re-joins, it takes up the melody before leading to a passage with hovering  strings and trumpet playing a freely moving theme. The percussion again appear, adding a slow rhythmic momentum –with woodwind adding to the texture. As the music develops and becomes more animated, the trumpet attains an even more jazz like fee,l such that it often sounds improvised.

Eventually a violent peak arrives with percussion and a frantic motif for the solo trumpet. The music eventually falls back as the trumpet continues its way, weaving around, until another peak arrives where the soloist is merged with other brass and woodwind, until the music truly quietens and broadens out. The trumpet retains an anguished feel as it moves to a section for trumpet over the quiet hum of the orchestra. Delicate percussion harmonies underlie the soloist before a last burst of drums and the music fades.

The performance is superb with Håkan Hardenberger showing such freedom, virtuosity and sheer musicality.

This new disc features a live recording of the World Premiere of Speranza (2012) made at the Barbican, London on 7th February 2013. Commissioned by the LSO, it explores the concept of hope with each of the four movements given the name of ‘Hope’ in a different language.

In Amal, the Arabic word for hope, the orchestra opens with a five note motif that seems to act as a call to attention before the music proceeds, full of drama, before falling to a woodwind passage with a gently plucked harp. Other woodwind enter to take up the theme and occasionally a drum stroke points up the drama. Turnage weaves a wonderful tapestry of orchestral sounds that renew the drama as the theme is moved along. Crying strings call out as though gently pleading, before brass join the woodwind in a more passionate cry as the five note motif is heard. Eventually the orchestra is led by insistent drumming as if to push it forward. It reaches a final climax before reducing to a hushed passage for woodwind and harp. The music doesn’t seem to arrive at a conclusion – more a resigned gentle hope.

Dramatic drum bursts point up the orchestra as Hoffen, the German word for hope,  opens. The plaintive sound of the duduk (a traditional Armenian double reeded woodwind instrument) enters before drum rolls intervene again but the duduk re-enters with its plaintive melody. The orchestra then steps slowly forward as the music tries to tentatively grow. Brass and woodwind, in a gloriously written harmony, plead and drum strokes sound as the music hovers for a moment. There is a gentle, soothing orchestral melody that follows with lovely little woodwind sounds.  Turnage’s writing for wind is superb. The music reaches a small climax before trumpets intone a theme and the orchestra continues its way with a somewhat laden, melancholy air. Occasionally there are menacing drum strokes before, as the coda is reached, the plaintive duduk returns.

Dóchas, Gaelic for hope, opens with the sound of expectant brass before the lower orchestra, complete with piano, join in a fast moving syncopated rhythm. The way Turnage uses clarinets to add to the texture is lovely. The music continues in this intense, confident manner before drums and brass increase the drama. The music eventually quietens to a more ruminative section before taking off again with wild drums, raucous brass and woodwind. As the music drops to a quiet brass passage, still with the syncopated rhythm, it is taken over by woodwind. As it starts building to a fast dancing motif, as though leading to a whirlwind of a dance, the music suddenly ends.

The final message of hope is in Hebrew, Tikvah and opens quietly with percussion and a little string ensemble in this still passage. A soprano saxophone then plays a lovely theme, surely echoing the sadness and hope of centuries. The opening theme returns before the woodwind take up the plaintive melody. The orchestra weaves a beautiful tapestry of individual instrumental sounds as this wonderful melody moves forward, often with a slightly eastern inflection. Eventually the cimbalon joins the texture in a slightly more pleading moment. These little outbursts re-occur throughout the gentle melody and are very moving. A swirling orchestra leads to a climax with a heavily laden orchestra giving a powerful lament or cry before dropping to the little string ensemble, before the music gently continues its way to the hushed coda.

This is an immensely impressive work that I would not like to be without.  Guy Dammann, in his excellent booklet note, refers to Speranza being Turnage’s most ambitious and symphonic composition for orchestra to date. I believe it to be one of his finest.

Daniel Harding and the marvellous London Symphony Orchestra give an impressively sensitive performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s fine orchestral work

The recording is first rate.




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