fri 19/07/2024

Håkan Hardenberger, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Håkan Hardenberger, Wigmore Hall

Håkan Hardenberger, Wigmore Hall

World's greatest trumpeter is upstaged by his accompanist

The first phrase of the first piece by Georges Enescu - silken, expressive, rounded, breathed to perfection - established a very good case for Håkan Hardenberger being the greatest living trumpeter. The rest of his Wigmore Hall recital established a pretty equally watertight case against.

Probably the most impressive thing about the impressively impassioned account of Enescu's great single-movement tone poem Légende was Hardenberger's control of dynamic at both ends of the spectrum. The expressive feel and sweep of this late-Romantic work was perfectly communicated by both Hardenberger and Pöntinen. And the assured bagging of all the leggiero tonguing boded well.

But the delivery wasn't there in the Hindemith Trumpet Sonata - or in any of the subsequent pieces. Hindemith's perfectly crafted work needed far more crispness and neatness. The dotted galloping from Pöntinen demanded more grip and lift. Hardenberger seemed unable to deliver the filigree writing with any degree of surety, an intermittent fumbling that was capped by a disinterested manner up until the final moments of the Trauermusik. Pöntinen made amends with plenty of trauer but also sought to shoehorn this Modernist work into an uncomfortable Romantic mould.

It was difficult to know what to make of Ligeti's jokey Mysteries of the Macabre, an arrangement of the three nonsense arias of the secret police chief Gepopo in Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre. The piece requires both performers to whisper and shout elliptical phrases and imitative words at the audience while playing. Things like psst!, ssh! and ha ha! Amazingly, it had the audience in stitches. I imagine a standing ovation could have been wrought had Hardenberger followed that up by dropping his trumpet and trousers, slapping Pöntinen's balding head and chasing him around the stage like Benny Hill.

Instead, they plowed on in to a second half full of arrangements. None of them made as much of an impression as the solo stint from Pöntinen, a rendition of that whirligig work from Chabrier, the Bourrée fantasque, that had more character and fizz than most of what had come from Hardenberger's lips that evening. Pöntinen propelled the work forward at an almost indecent pace, then summoned up a dreamy middle section worthy of Ravel, left and right hand chasing musical gold one way then the other, like two magpies in a courtyard.

The arrangements of Piazzolla's Histoire du Tango and a medley of film scores from Nino Rota, Piazzolla et al couldn't help descending into stock sentimental gesturing, lone trumpet vocalising over ripply piano accompaniments. It was sweet and sickly stuff that did little to show off the talents of either of the two performers or the versatility of their instruments - though it did give me time to realise that Pöntinen was a spitting image of Lou from Little Britain.

The piece requires both performers to whisper and shout elliptical phrases and imitative words at the audience while playing. Amazingly, it had the audience in stitches

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