Wednesday 5 April 2023

Hindemith & beyond: Trio Brax's debut disc takes the Trio for Viola, Tenor Saxophone & Piano as starting point for an imaginative recital

Paul Hindemith: Trio for Viola, Tenor Saxophone and Piano, music by  Kjell Habbestad, Håvard Lund , Helge Iberg; Trio Brax; Lawo Classics
Paul Hindemith: Trio for Viola, Tenor Saxophone and Piano, music by  Kjell Habbestad, Håvard Lund, Helge Iberg; Trio Brax; Lawo Classics
Reviewed 5/4/2023

Hindemith's sonata is the focus for an imaginative recital pairing it with three contemporary works by Norwegian composers for the same line-up of viola, tenor saxophone and piano, resulting in an engaging and sometimes seductive disc

Paul Hindemith wrote his Trio for Viola, Tenor Saxophone and Piano in 1928. Originally for the semi-obsolete heckelphone (a kind of baritone oboe), Hindemith endorsed the replacement of the heckelphone with a tenor saxophone, substituting one unusual combination of instruments with another hardly less rare.  And Hindemith thus left performers with a challenge and a problem, what to pair his work with?

For the Trio Brax, a chamber ensemble based in Tromsø in North Norway, the answer was to ask three Norwegian composers to write companion works for the Hindemith. So, for their new disc on Lawo Classics, Trio Brax (Julia Neher, Ola Asdahl Rokkones and Sergey Osadchuk) perform Hindemith's Trio for Viola, Tenor Saxophone and Piano alongside Kjell Habbestad's Tres flores, Op. 97, Håvard Lund's The Magpie & I and Helge Iberg's Ut a stjaelehester.

Trio Brax's name comes from a combination of bratsj (the Norwegian for viola) and saxophone.

The disc begins with Tres flores by Kjell Habbestad, professor emeritus of music theory and composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. He originally planned his work based around three poems, but the music changed. Instead, each movement focuses on one of the instruments, indicated by punning flower motifs in the movement titles, 'Saxifraga squarrosa', 'Viola cornuta' and 'Digitalis grandiflora'. 'Saxifraga squarrosa' features a liquid saxophone line over flowing textures, it is fascinatingly mobile, restless, and not a little seductive. Beginning gently, 'Viola cornuta' uses a lovely rocking texture with flowing lines over, the busy viola to the fore. More dramatic, 'Digitalis grandiflora' seems to almost turn into a waltz at times. What is noticeable about the whole piece, is the way Habbestad uses the fascinating combination of instruments to create some really seductive textures and timbres, the saxophone does not stand alone but weaves in with the other instruments.

Håvard Lund is a composer and jazz musician, performing on both saxophone and clarinet. He often gives descriptive titles to his pieces but cautions that these are only the starting point. The Magpie & I arose after a grim encounter with a flock of the birds. There is a strong narrative feel here, beginning busy characterful, the music is wonderfully changeable and vivid, drawing you in and intriguing you as to what is being depicted next. There is a lovely moment which uses the viola's high plangent tone to striking effect. 

Helge Iberg works equally in the worlds of contemporary music and jazz. The title of his piece, Ut a stjaelehester, translates as Our Stealing Horses. It was inspired by a novel by Norwegian novelist Per Petterson (born 1952); the novel, dating from 2003 was Petterson's breakthrough novel. Iberg comments, 'I have given the two movements quasi-dramatic titles (The Sting, The Ride) to emphasise the lightness and unpretentiousness of the idea'. The Sting features interesting combinations of timbres, including some dramatic tonguing from the saxophone. Restless and intriguing, the music makes the three instruments equal partners whilst giving them different roles, to vivid effect. The longer second movement begins quiet and spare, just placed fragments which gradually build to a more dramatic effect though things dissolve away more than once. Being unfamiliar with the novel, I was intrigued as to how any of the story is reflected in the music, but you feel there is a real narrative here

The disc ends with Hindemith's trio. Written in 1928, it came at the end of a period when Hindemith wrote a lot of chamber music, often combining traditional Baroque textures with more modern harmonies (he even taught himself the viola d'amore so he could write a sonata for the instrument). Technically it is in two movements, but the first is in three sections - 'Solo', 'Arioso', 'Duet' and the second in four sections - '(Potpourri)', 'Lebhaft', 'Schnelle Halbe', 'Prestissimo'.

We begin in Hindemith's best neo-Baroque style, a piano solo that manages to be both ancient and modern, neo-Baroque and rather expressionist. 'Arioso' features a tender saxophone solo, with expressionist support from the piano, the whole almost, but not quite taking on a dance form. Finally, this movement ends with a busily vivid fugal movement for all three instruments. The second begins in perkily rhythmic style that might almost be Kurt Weill in Berlin! Though this mood continues, the expressionist neo-Baroque Hindemith comes in too. The second section seems to take the material from the first and simply present it slower and more densely, almost developing a real fugue, and one with a great sense of impetus. The third remains quasi-fugal but the material is presented in less dense fashion (that is not to say it is simple), and we end with 90 seconds of vividly fast scurrying.

The Hindemith is a terrific piece and here given a wonderfully vivid and characterful performance. We don't hear anything like enough Hindemith from this period and this disc makes an imaginative setting for the work with the three contrasting contemporary pieces. Given the Hindemith as the starting point, it is fascinating the way each composer has taken the trio's particular characteristics and moved them in different directions. 

This is a lovely debut disc for Trio Brax and it makes me very intrigued by what they will do next.

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Imaginative programme & unusual repertoire: The Fourth Choir's The Only Planet at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - concert review
  • Reclaiming Handel's first thoughts: Peter Whelan directs Irish Baroque Orchestra in the Dublin version of Messiah - concert review
  • Korngold looks back: the lushness & extravagance of fin-de-siecle Vienna evoked in The Dead City at English National Opera - opera review
  • Focus on Manchester:
    • A joy in telling stories in music: the Manchester Camerata, the Monastery & music - feature
    • Successfully integrated into the same eco-system, The Stoller Hall and Chetham's School of Music - feature
    • Let other pens dwell on misery and grief - a joyous ensemble performance of Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park from RNCM Opera - opera review
    • The latest in Manchester Camerata's Mozart, Made in Manchester series featured a lovely creative dialogue between Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy and the players - concert review
    • Henning Kraggerud & RNCM Chamber Orchestra in RNCM's Original Voices Festival concert review
    • Every phrase has a story behind it: Gábor Takács-Nagy on conducting Mozart and more - interview
  • Handel in Rome: Nardus Williams and the Dunedin Consort at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • After Byrd: HEXAD Collective launches its concert series exploring hidden music for voices - concert review
  • The go-to place for information about opera performances across the globe: we chat to Operabase's new CEO, Ulrike Köstinger - interview
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month