Storgards, Hardenberger, BBC Philharmonic, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

 

The most powerful weapon in the opera designer’s armoury is lighting, which allows musical atmosphere to be changed by the flick of a switch: Ravel’s ‘L’enfant et les sortileges’ was never more resonant than when lit by David Hockney’s glowing reds, greens, and mauves.

Why is this most simple of devices not capitalised on in the concert hall? Why is ‘orchestral colour’ never more than a figurative phrase? The Swedish composer Tobias Brostrom is one of the few to write colour into his scores, and with electronica added to the mix as in his ‘Lucernaris’, the effect can be extraordinary.

The title denotes a lamp-lighting ceremony, but this new concerto for trumpet, live electronics, and orchestra needs no external narrative, because its internal one is so strong. It’s a journey through regions of extreme heat and extreme cold, as reflected in the soloist’s alternating use of a flugelhorn (warm) and a trumpet in its unmuted (cold) and muted (glacial) forms; the hot red light in which the work opens turns intermittently blue and – when the electronics kick in – ashen white. The electronics blend pre-recorded effects with sampling, and when these sounds accompany the players at full blast one feels enclosed in a space which is at once virtual and intensely physical. The music is by turns jazzy, sharply percussive, and sonorously Nordic-romantic, and the work ends with the soloist disappearing off stage, and reappearing in the gods to deliver a bleak threnody: with Brostrom creating live electronics, John Storgards on the podium, and Hakan Hardenberger as the heroic soloist, it all worked a treat.

Hardenberger and Storgards are old friends, and in this concert they swapped roles: for Kimmo Hakola’s new ‘Violin Concerto Opus 88’, Hardenberger mounted the podium and Storgards picked up his violin. And in this intricately-constructed work he proved no less heroic, finding all the virtuosity necessary for its formidable technical demands. Rather than setting soloist and orchestra in the traditional opposition, Hakola has them running in parallel but in strikingly different modes: while the orchestra sets up a tidal ebb-and-flow like some gigantic accordion, the soloist delivers jagged pyrotechnics. Scintillating accounts of Stravinsky’s ‘Symphonies of Wind Instruments’ and ‘Petrushka’ book-ended the two UK premieres in this concert by the BBC Philharmonic, the only sadness being that it was so thinly attended.

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