Musica Vitae = Ingvar Lidholm: Music for Strings; Thomas Jennefelt: Stockholm in May; Bengt Hambræus: Labyrinth, A Concerto Grosso – Hakan Hardenberger, trumpet/ Musica Vitae/ Peter Csaba – Caprice CAP 21572, 65:28 [Distr. by Qualiton] ***:
Except for the Romanian conductor, this is an entirely Swedish production that features all Swedish artists as well. The 15-member Musica Vitae is one of the country’s leading chamber orchestras, and its repertory is broad and far-reaching. They play with an incredible finesse and produce a sound that is full of color as well.
But the music is more problematic. Though Music for Strings was written in 1952 (string quartet) and revised for its present forces in 1954, the astringent Bartok-like harmonies only go partially towards relieving the 50’s angst that it seems so many pieces from that time display. It is much more approachable than Labyrinth, a work that was written in 1998 on New Year’s Eve for the forces here recorded. Bengt Hambræus’s (1928-2000) roots are from Darmstadt however, where he spent many summers, and I am beginning to wonder if we will ever be completely free from the confusions and anti-tonality stance taken in that place. The piece has a structure that can be discerned (a concerto grosso) but the musical material is anything but attractive and does not bring you back for more.
There is something to salvage however, and that would be Thomas Jennefelt’s Stockholm in May, a piece for trumpet and string orchestra that concentrates on the lyrical and dramatic aspects of the horn instead of its purely virtuosic aspects. Jennefelt is a composer of vocal and theater music, and that shows here. The music is not all sweetness and light, despite its celebration of the scenery of Stockholm, though the composer doesn’t specifically mention in the notes to this release where the slight dark side comes from. But it is an effective work that needs lots of playtime, and Hakan Hardenberger plays it superbly. A mixed bag then, though it all sounds splendid.
— Steven Ritter
In Memoriam… a fine tribute to Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire