, July 2011
Busking, Gruber’s second trumpet concerto, was written at the request of Hardenberger. He wanted a concerto for trumpet and strings modelled on Nebelsteinmusik. It should not require any particular “props”, not even mutes, as was the case with Gruber’s first trumpet concerto Aerial that also called for a cowhorn. However, Gruber’s music would not be what it is without its occasional bits of idiosyncratic writing. To avoid his new concerto for trumpet and strings sounding too much like baroque music Gruber added a banjo and an accordion representing a harpsichord and a street organ respectively. Moreover, the composer “by-passed” Hardenberger’s brief for a fairly straightforward piece. So, the first movement opens with an alert dance tune played on the mouthpiece and later having the soloist turning to the E flat trumpet and using a mute. The beautifully lyrical slow movement is played on the flügelhorn which imbues the music with a tenderly mellow sound. Hardenberger’s main instrument—the trumpet in C—makes its appearance in the lively finale. This is a very fine work indeed and one likely to catch the listener’s ear immediately because of the readily attractive material. Its attractions are also down to the freshness with which the composer handles what may at first appear and sound popular as befits a work indirectly inspired by Picasso’s painting Three Musicians; this canvas adorns the cover of this release.
Gruber’s second violin concerto Nebelsteinmusik was commissioned by the Alban Berg Foundation. The music draws on two main ideas: a passage from the Andante amoroso from Berg’s Lyrische Suite and on a musical motive derived from the name of Gottfried von Einem, Gruber’s former teacher and lifelong friend, to whom the score is dedicated on his seventieth birthday. Later, the music also draws on works by von Einem: his Piano Concerto Op.20 (in the second movement) and his Concerto for Orchestra Op.4 (in the cadenza and in the fourth movement). This compact work is also a wonderful piece: concise, tightly knit and closely worked-out although Gruber’s often easy-going and dancing music makes it eminently accessible and immensely rewarding. As far as I am concerned I believe that this is the finest work here. Incidentally Nebelstein is the name of a local mountain in Lower Austria where von Einem lived.
Gruber’s first violin concerto …aus schatten duft gewebt started its life as a love song composed in 1972/3 in which Ernst Kovacic played the violin part. At that time the composer was at work on a full-scale opera Gomorra so the idea of a violin concerto for Kovacic was put aside for a while. Later the composer returned to the song and used it as the basis for a new attempt at a violin concerto. It was completed in 1978 and first performed in 1979. Later still Kovacic and Michael Gielen who had decided to include the work on the programme of an international tour suggested that the composer might revise it. So he did revise it rather substantially and the revised version, as recorded here, was first performed in 1992. It opens calmly, almost hesitant, in a dreamy mood, and the music then unfolds through a series of contrasted episodes in search of the hidden original song on which the entire work is based. This is stated in its entirety near the end of the work.
With the composer at the helm of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and with excellent soloists such as Hardenberger and Andreasson these performances are not likely to be surpassed soon.
I must now avow something. For some time I nourished an unfavourable prejudice against Gruber’s music. Don’t ask me why. In the meantime, however, I was able to redress that prejudice and to find much beauty in his often colourful and expressive music. This release just comforts my new faith in his music. It will appeal to all those who still believe that contemporary music must be intractable. There is much to enjoy in this generously filled release.