Gourzí’s extraordinary new trumpet concerto and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto from the Tonkünstler Orchestra at Grafenegg

AustriaAustria Grafenegg Festival – Gourzí, Beethoven: Simon Höfele (trumpet), Emmanuel Tjeknavorian (violin), Harriet Krijgh (cello), Rudolf Buchbinder (piano), Tonkünstler Orchestra / Konstantía Gourzí and Rudolf Buchbinder (conductors). Schloss Grafenegg Auditorium, 5.9.2021. (LV)

Konstantía Gourzí (c) Astrid Ackermann

Konstantía GourzíYpsilon, A Poem for Trumpet and Orchestra in Five Scenes Op.83

Beethoven – Triple Concerto in C major for piano, violin, cello and orchestra Op.56

A sudden storm had canceled the premiere of Konstantía Gourzí’s trumpet concerto at the opening of last year’s festival, and so the world premiere of this Grafenegg commission took on a special significance, as did another victim of last year’s weather, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto.

There are legitimate reasons to regard Beethoven’s Triple Concerto as, really, Beethoven’s Cello Concerto – it introduces all the key tunes, strikes the most emotional tones and has the most difficult part – but in truth the best performances result when the pianist and the conductor take more than a cursory interest in how the flow of wonderful ideas should be shaped and at what speeds. And when the pianist and the conductor are one, and the one is Rudolf Buchbinder, the result likely to be focused on energy and movement, gracefully phrased and youthfully paced.

In fact, the opening Allegro began in two to a bar, slightly quicker than usual but with a light touch, lots of power, infinitely subtle grades of complexities, shades and phrasing, and always a simplicity of perfection of line. There was a light-hearted Viennese lilt to Harriet Krijgh’s framing of her two big solos at the beginning, and Rudolf Buchbinder responded with marvelous half tones and the orchestra with golden horns. The momentum carried Emannuel Tjeknavorian, rock solid but small scale; Krijgh, rhapsodic and cautious in her deceptively difficult part; and Buchbinder making music at the piano as if he were still playing Triples with Josef Suk and Janos Starker, forward so exhilaratingly that it ran out of room to get faster at the end.

Simon Höfele (c) Marco Borggreve

Krijgh’s best moments were in the Largo, her sweet tone, clean with little portamento, commanding with her nobility of line. She sailed through Beethoven’s curious idea of a transition to a Rondo alla polacca full of imaginative touches and daring feats of virtuosity from all three soloists in Beethoven’s series of track and field trials; they scrambled through the 2/4 section but stayed clean and triumphant when they returned to 3/4 at the end, with Buchbinder letting the piano ring out as Beethoven wanted.

Gourzí’s Ypsilon began with a trumpet soliloquy, a wonderful sound world of rustling chimes, a rainstick; a chorale for trumpet, violins and violas; a dirge-like march for full orchestra with bells, followed by the trumpet muted, lyrical in a long-lined song. There was a huge raging of drums in the second part, dotted with cadenzas, short riffs, flutter-tonguing and a monstrous mass of sound leading to a resolution ending with a cello and double bass col legno and, finally, more trumpet rhapsodizing.

As the piece went on, and it went on for 32 minutes, Gourzí added an enormous amount of percussion instruments from a Star Wars type of world music cafe, claustrophobic at times, indoors with the audience masked. At the end there was voiceless humming from the musicians, and one last soliloquy accompanied by actual birds and some amount of percussion not yet used. From first to last, Simon Höfele never faltered, wavered or failed to understand and feel deep into his heart the music’s poetry. And the Tonkünstler Orchestra also stayed true to the music’s purpose, drive and honesty.

Laurence Vittes

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