You can count on the fingers of one hand the trumpet concertos that are in the standard repertory. Given the celebratory and indeed declamatory characteristics of this instrument, the absence of such pieces is a surprising omission. It’s good, therefore, that the attention given more recently to Mieczysław Weinberg (who also devoted solo outings to cello, violin, clarinet and two for flute) allows us to appreciate the distinctive nature of his concerto for the trumpet. Written in the late 1960s for the great Soviet virtuoso Timofey Dokshitser, it has also been taken up and recorded by Håkan Hardenberger, partnered in this performance by Andris Nelsons with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.

Håkan Hardenberger plays Weinberg
© Nadja Sjöström

The first movement bears the imprint of Weinberg’s mentor Shostakovich, most obviously in the astringency of the orchestral textures (sharp accents from strings and percussion) and the bursts of coiled energy unwrapping themselves in circus-like displays of rhetoric. At one point the solo line appeared fully airborne, the upper register soaring into infinite regions, the music all but threatening to career out of control, yet ultimately reined in with a few deft flicks of Nelsons’ wrist.

But it is the second movement, also the longest, which reveals more about Weinberg’s own personality. True, the long orchestral introduction evoked inevitable parallels with Mahler through the heightened emotional temperature and consummate use of orchestral colour. However, Weinberg’s craftsmanship is itself remarkable: an extended flute solo winds down into its lowest register where it is then picked up seamlessly by the trumpet, like a perfect baton change in a relay race. Later, the muted trumpet emerges like a ghostly apparition from a tapestry of silky and shimmering strings, with atmospheric touches from a variety of percussion instruments, forming an episode which would not seem out of place in either of the two Nachtmusik movements of Mahler 7.

Andris Nelsons, Håkan Hardenberger and the RSPO
© Nadja Sjöström

The Finale ushers in a “Guess the quotation” round (it was some years later that Shostakovich wrote his very last symphony). Beginning with echoes of the way Mahler 5 is launched, through thematic references to Bizet, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky’s Petrushka, this movement is a very effective collage. Throughout this performance the ear never tired: thanks not only to the quality of Hardenberger’s playing, his phenomenal breath control and range of dynamics as well as the tonal richness on display, but also the growing assurance that each step in the musical argument would always lead into tantalising new territory for the listener. In an interval interview Hardenberger highlighted one essential aspect of the writing when he referred to “the solitude of the human being”. This trumpet concerto certainly deserves regular outings.

Andris Nelsons
© Nadja Sjöström

The Scherzo of Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony was so successful that it had to be repeated on its first performance in Prague in March 1881. This was a furiant, a robust Bohemian dance with powerful cross-rhythms, making its first appearance in a symphony by a leading composer. Nelsons captured the innate quality of this movement with its unalloyed expressions of life, energy and vitality. Elsewhere there was much evidence of an epic breadth, though the string forces deployed here were rather modest and rarely exposed much in the way of collective muscle. That was clearly not part of Nelsons’ intention. His emphasis was on the sweet singing melodic lines of the upper strings (occasionally waylaid in the languor of the Adagio) as well as on the pastoral qualities of the woodwind. Though there were bursts of D major radiance at the close of the outer movements, a little more character and assertiveness from the lower brass in general would not have come amiss.

This performance was reviewed from the KonserthusetPlay video stream