Tuesday, May 23, 2017
2L Recordings' Furatus on Blu-ray Audio and CD/SACD
When I think of a recording of a classical duo, any one, I don't usually think of a piano and a trumpet. I have nothing personally against either instrument, it's just that they are both so expressive and dynamic and it seems they might need a middle-man, say a violin, to provide a smooth transition. If you have a huge selection of piano and trumpet duos in your record collection, you might think I'm an idiot and that I need to hear "this" or "this" before I make such broad generalizations. On the other hand, you might agree. If you do, I can write the phrase "classical trumpet and piano duo" and I bet you think you have a pretty clear idea of what that sounds like.
That was my problem when I first approached the latest release from 2L Recordings in Norway, Furatus. I even sat and listened to the first piece, Edvard Grieg's "Holberg-Suite," and thought yes, this is a fine recording of a trumpet and a piano captured in yet another spectacular Norwegian church. The two instruments in question sound properly expressive and properly dynamic, two very focused voices in a rather large space. But, as general Akbar once said a long time ago, it's a trap.
The Grieg piece is dignified and structured. The four pieces after that, composed by Kosaku Yamada, Dmitri Shostakovich, Geirr Tveitt and Carl Nielsen, will confound your expectations with a tutorial on emotional depth. Suddenly you're absorbed. Suddenly it's no longer about a trumpet and a piano. It's about two musical extroverts learning how to weave and waltz and play off the other's energy. It's about moods and feelings and distinct visuals you might not normally associate with these two instruments.
This understated success is obviously due to the performances of trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen and pianist Wolfgang Plagge. (In addition to his C trumpet, Antonsen also uses a cornet and piccolo trumpet to accomplish these textures.) As usual, the musical program has a rewarding and cerebral subtext--in this case it's pieces of music that "borrow ideas" from much older pieces. According to the liner notes, this practice became very popular during the Romantic Period and was considered a true art form...if it was done with intelligence.
The Grieg piece was written in 1884 and uses many ideas from dance music from the 18th century. Nielsen's Humoresque-Bagatelles, which serves as the other bookend for Furatus, also pays tribute to light, happy and energetic dances from Western Europe--although it has a much more reserved tone because it's been tempered by what songs preceded it. It's those three pieces in the middle--Yamada's Songs, Shostakovich's Three Fantastic Dances and Tveitt's Hardingtonar--that provide the beating heart and the weathered soul of the album, the sense of a sometimes dangerous journey that needs to be taken between the two celebrations. This is where the trumpet and piano begin a dance of their own, away from the dancers, to a new locale where crystal chandeliers and opulent horse-drawn coaches are not the norm.
That's why Furatus is so breathtaking--it takes you to a lot of places in your heart, places you weren't expecting to visit with a pianist and a trumpeter. While the "borrowing ideas" motif is challenging in an academic sort of way, I think the true passion and the attraction of this album is how it takes two common instruments and blends them into something new. If you make it well into the heart of this album and come out the other side, you'll understand.