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Hyperion Records

LSO0744 - Turnage: Speranza & From the Wreckage
Recording details: February 2013
Barbican, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Nicholas Parker
Engineered by Neil Hutchinson
Release date: November 2013
Total duration: 55 minutes 40 seconds

'In Speranza, with its tangible message of enduring hope, we truly find heart as well as brilliance' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Turnage’s orchestration is what colours this landscape. In 'Dóchas' he uses the oboe-like duduk, while the sombre, one-movement concerto moves to the light via the flugelhorn, trumpet and piccolo trumpet, insistent percussion representing both the heartbeat and the nervous jump' (The Independent)

'The sound is arguably the finest to have come from LSO Live in recent years, having a lustre and depth that highlight both Turnage’s orchestration and the LSO’s realization of it to best advantage' (International Record Review)

'The glittering virtuosity of [Hardenberger’s] playing says everything about the composer’s expertise in writing it, and conjures a musical idiom resembling a strange blend of Mahler and Miles Davis … in both works Daniel Harding’s conducting secures a fine response from the UK’s classiest and feistiest symphony orchestra, whose players latch onto the music’s menacing surges of sound with their trademark firepower' (

Speranza & From the Wreckage
Amal  [11'56]
Hoffen  [9'54]
Dóchas  [6'35]
Tikvah  [11'23]

LSO Live presents the world premiere recording of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s large-scale orchestral work Speranza (‘Hope’), a piece commissioned by the LSO as part of Turnage’s residency with the orchestra in early 2013. Turnage is one of the most admired composers of his generation, and has long been associated with the London Symphony Orchestra. Daniel Harding appears in this his conducting debut for LSO Live.

Speranza is in many ways Turnage’s most ambitious and symphonic composition for orchestra to date. The piece is a monument to the power of optimism in a bleak world—‘I started working on the piece while thinking about the absence of hope. I wanted to lift people up’, says Turnage. Each of the four movements are titled ‘Hope’ in a different language; Arabic, German, Irish and Hebrew.

Speranza is coupled here with From the Wreckage, described by The Times as ‘outstanding: the music begins hellishly but gradually picks up a bluesy swing …’. Premiered in 2005, the piece was written for Håkan Hardenberger who reprises the role of soloist for this release. The three internal sections of From the Wreckage are marked by the soloist’s change of instrument—first flugelhorn, then trumpet, and finally piccolo trumpet.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In some ways Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Trumpet Concerto follows a trajectory similar to many works in the orchestral repertoire. The journey, via a process of inner struggle, from a state of darkness into one of light is, after all, one of the great emotional archetypes of musical form. But unlike, say, the great Fifth Symphonies of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Nielsen, Turnage’s compact piece does not share the heroic statements of these earlier works. Its psychology relates to a much more modern frame of mind, one in which the crisis is less overcome than simply worked through, resulting in a state of mind in which the agony becomes tolerable.

The work is composed in a single movement, but a three-part division is perceptible in the changing atmosphere, itself further articulated by the soloist’s moving from the dark-toned flugelhorn to the standard trumpet and eventually, for the third part, to the piccolo trumpet. The opening suggests horror rather than tragedy. Subtle but uncanny screeches in the strings and unsettling flares from the percussion provide a background to the nervous, centre-less meandering of the soloist. The subsequent, jazz-inflected syncopations introduced during the first tutti, and the misty flow of the ensuing solo entry, seem initially to afford few comforts, but the sense of the trumpet exploring half-familiar territory eventually dispels the sense of underlying panic. True to form, there is no Beethovenian conquering-over-adversity at the end. Rather, the opening’s uncertainties are simply rendered less threatening and the piece seems less to end than simply to exhale, winding out on a shimmering chord and a last shake of the snare.

Originally written for this performance’s soloist, the Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, From the Wreckage is remarkable for the way it captures such a wide spectrum of colour and expression from its solo instrument. Turnage’s affinity with the instrument stems partly from the pieces—such as Night Dances (1981) and the double trumpet concerto Dispelling the Fears (1994)—in which his love of jazz first penetrated and revolutionised his musical style. The piece also eschews the traditional concerto idea of making adversaries of soloist and orchestra, the latter acting more in the manner of an ancient Greek chorus by setting and colouring the scene and responding to the plight of the troubled protagonist.

Though you wouldn’t guess it from its title, Speranza (or ‘Hope’) was originally conceived as a work about suicide. Commissioned by the LSO to write a substantial new orchestral work as part of his residency with the Orchestra, Turnage was at that time deeply immersed in the poetry of the Jewish-Romanian writer Paul Celan. Celan’s experience in a concentration camp during World War II, and subsequent conviction that German poetry was the only means through which the phenomenon of the Holocaust could properly be understood (‘from the inside’, as it were), has often stimulated the interest of composers because of the poet’s fascination with the notion of things that are ‘unsayable’ in language. Going back to notions central to German Idealism and its construal of absolute music as the art-form which provided the closest approximation of man’s deepest and least determinate desires, Celan’s artistic motivation was that it was only through the music of poetry, so to speak, that German consciousness could reconcile itself with the horrors committed in the name of the Third Reich.

That Turnage ended up departing from his initial subject-matter and using Speranza to explore the concept of hope tells one a great deal about the composer. Superficially, perhaps, it tells us firstly that here is a composer unafraid to change his mind about fundamentals, as well as details (a trait he shares, it might be remembered, with Mahler and many others). But Turnage’s volte-face also reveals the depth of his thinking about his literary and artistic influences. The principle of hope is, as the Frankfurt School thinker Ernst Bloch elaborated in his philosophical triptych on the subject, the one aspect of human consciousness that is inextinguishable even in the face of extreme suffering.

Turnage’s changes of mind also reveal something about his attitudes to the process of composing. A musician who has always drawn on a diverse range of literary, artistic and musical influences, he is as eager in composing to find new inspirations as he is to cover over the tracks leading to them. This is not because he feels that extra-musical content should necessarily be hidden, but rather the reverse. Like an oil painting—perhaps one by Bacon, one of the artists most important to Turnage—in which the artist’s original intentions and lines are revised and reworked during the process of composition, a work’s internal history always reveals itself in its materials.

Hidden, then, or rather half-concealed in Speranza are references not only to Celan, but to Primo Levi, Oscar Wilde (whose mother’s pen-name was ‘Speranza’), and to the Persian writer Sadegh Hedayat. This dark residue, however, is undercut by the upbeat character of much of the work, particularly the scherzo-like third movement. Turnage originally intended the piece to be a continuous single movement, but admits the challenge defeated him and, instead, the music is divided into four movements (it was originally five, but movement four was cut after the first performance), each of them given the name of ‘hope’ in a different language: Amal (Arabic), Hoffen (German), Dóchas (Gaelic), and Tikvah (Hebrew). As the language choices and their deployment suggest, the music describes a kind of broken symmetry—from the current Arab-Israeli conflict back toward World War II and centring on the Irish struggle, a subject of long-standing interest to Turnage.

The movement titles are not skin deep, with some of them drawing their melodic character from folk tunes: a Palestinian anthem in the first movement first articulated in the lower woodwind over a kind of shimmering drone, an Israeli children’s song in the second movement, and a Jewish folk song in the fourth. In each case, the melodies are presented in sharp relief before filling out into a polyphonic texture. The duduk (a traditional Armenian instrument, a distant relative of the oboe but closer in sound to a saxophone) takes the lead in the slow second movement, where it unravels a meandering chromatic melody in two episodes, punctuated by brooding chords in the orchestra, before splinters of the melodic material break off for a more varied treatment. The third movement contains many hallmarks of Turnage’s music at his most spry and rhythmically animated.

Coming at the head of an extensive catalogue of orchestral works, Speranza is in many ways Turnage’s most ambitious and symphonic composition for orchestra to date. It has the variety and spice one expects to hear in all his music, but it also has a cyclical rigour, left over perhaps from his consideration of Celan’s early poem, Todesfugue (or ‘Death Fugue’, itself partly bound up with the expressive aporia supposedly reached in Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue). More importantly, perhaps, in its intertwining of a personal emotional journey and a reflective commentary on the scarred political landscape of the present and previous centuries, it is a work that casts a wide net around its audience, promising to draw us, through its distinctive and seductive soundworld, to its underlying conception of musical listening as a process inescapably bound up with the psychology of hope.

Guy Dammann © 2012

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