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Cowhorn Gets A Rare Outing With CBSO

I’ve never seen a cowhorn being played on stage before, nor did I think they could sound so pleasant.

It was one of the stranger moments in trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger’s solo performance of Gruber’s Aerial concerto.

Preceding this was a decent-enough Haydn Symphony, No 104 in D, played with a small and conventional orchestra.

Then the heavy artillery came out – xylophones, drums, gongs and more double basses than you could shake a bow at.

Hardenberger appeared on stage with a mammoth collection of trumpets, cowhorns and mutes, including one fixed to his stand so he could use it for occasional notes.

The piece is a modern one and seems taxing to play, but it is absorbing. It takes a long time to get going – the frequent tempo and changes means it doesn’t get much momentum.

To start with Hardenberger has to play some rather poor notes, a kind of dreary raspy sound that sounded as if he was waking up.

It certainly woke the audience up, most of them starting as it to wonder if he really could play the trumpet.

How Gruber scored this is anyone’s guess. The Latin for “play like you’re a complete beginner” must have had even the most established of musicians reaching for their dictionary.

Once it got going it was engrossing, with layers of sound building up to a sudden climax. Hardenberger played his last note walking off the stage, and put his trumpet down on the open piano strings. Those with bat-like hearing could just pick out the note trailing off as it reverberated off the piano.

After that, conventionality resumed in the second half with Brahms Symphony No 4 in E minor.

Like the Haydn it was nice enough, but contained no surprises. I contended myself with watching the triangle player proudly stand up to play his few beats after sitting motionless through the early movements.

Perhaps the CBSO are still in a post-Simon Rattle void. There is less flamboyance than there used to be, maybe the empty seats put them off.
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CWN / Arts & Entertainment / Warwick Arts Centre / 13 Nov 00

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