Hardenberger, Philharmonia Orchestra, Nelsons, Royal Festival Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Hardenberger, Philharmonia Orchestra, Nelsons, Royal Festival Hall
Andris Nelsons and Hakan Hardenberger trumpet heroic deeds
The heroics came fast and fervently with Andris Nelsons and the Philharmonia Orchestra emerging from suffocating pianissimi to rip out the exultant fanfares of Beethoven’s Leonora No 3 Overture as if already limbering up to take on Strauss’s critics in Ein Heldenleben. That he saw them off so decisively didn’t, on his present form, come as much of a surprise. Nelsons doesn’t need anyone to fight his battles for him – not even the egotistical Strauss.
This was an evening of much trumpeting, offstage and on. Indeed when Håkan Hardenberger came on to play the familiar Haydn Concerto it was as if he’d momentarily descended from the battlements of the Beethoven. Suavely attired like the star he undoubtedly is, he tossed off the Haydn with crisply articulate aplomb. It was all so effortless, so natural – all those shifts of colour from rounded and bugle-like to down-and-brassy. The short, flashy cadenza in the first movement sounded like his own, zipping as it did up to piccolo trumpet regions, and all those grupetti in the finale could not have sounded further from the tongue-twisters we know them to be. And because he made it all sound so easy, this much-loved party piece felt like short measure for such a showman.
Hardenberger and Nelsons plainly thought so, too, because they sneaked in (unprogrammed) another, rather sexier, offering from H K Gruber, oddly entitled Three Mob Pieces. Clearly this was an offer no one could refuse and armed with three trumpets – an E flat, a D and a piccolo – Hardenberger set about smooching and syncopating to his heart’s content against an instrumental backdrop which one felt was a whisker away from hanging loose on the cabaret scene. Hardenberger’s iridescent long coat was now entirely in keeping and he played like a dream. Gruber should stick to this stuff – it’s when he gets serious that he comes off the rails.
And so to fighting the good fight for Strauss. Nelsons had him stride forth with fabulous assurance, the Philharmonia string basses digging deep, the eight horns flaunting their sumptuous alliance with the cellos. This was as ripe a reading as they come with the leader Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay turning in a portrayal of Strauss’s “helpmate” – Pauline de Ahna – so feisty and assertive that one really did question who wore the trousers in this relationship.
More trumpetings from offstage and then the decisive battle – and, boy, was it decisive. Trombones spectacularly bore down on the ever plunging bass lines, trumpets were stopped high above the fray, and those horns covered themselves in glory. But more potent still were the two suspenseful silences, broken only by the grumbling of the fattest critics, the tubas, prompting a review of Strauss’s life’s work as egotistical as it is moving. The boisterously animated Nelsons grew still now and the closing pages, ending on the Also sprach sunset – the final trumpetings or even “the last trump” – were noble indeed.
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Classical music
Lively Russian nationalist goody-bag not quite filled to the brim
Star soprano shines in adventurous new works
Early works from a French 20th century giant, Russian piano concertos and Australian saxophone music
29-year-old Lithuanian conductor follows Andris Nelsons in Birmingham
Grieg’s bold Nordic spirit conveyed, but often at the expense of his charm
Young conductor leads dynamic and detailed Haydn, Szymanowski and Dvořák
An ecologically themed pairing of Beethoven and Raskatov, memorable for all the right and wrong reasons
French piano preludes, British quartets and 14th-century choral music refracted through modern ears
Well planned tribute to a great French composer who bucked the fashion
A legendary cellist and a long Bruckner original face difficulties
Great moments in Vaughan Williams's mighty 'A Sea Symphony'
Berlioz's fantastical invention superbly realised by Sir Andrew and company