Luxembourg Contemporary Music - Vol 3 Naxos

Luxembourg Contemporary Music Volume 3
Ernie Hammes (piccolo trumpet, trumpet)
Ernie Hammes Group
Solistes Européens Luxembourg/Christoph König
rec. 2016-21, Grand Auditorium, Philharmonie, Luxembourg
Naxos 8.579138 [73]

I had only heard of one of these composers, so I came to their music unprejudiced – the best way to approach new things. I knew Luc Grethen’s name but none of his music. This recording of his Upswing was most welcome. The piece states a number of basic ideas right at the outset. These elements later develop and are transformed. They go through varied landscapes while progressively building up towards the final apotheosis. But this is not readily reached: the music briefly pauses before the final rush. This may not sound particularly adventurous, and could be best described as 20th-century mainstream. Even so, it is well written and the composer must relish writing for orchestra.

Gaston “Gast” Waltzing is a trumpet player who has founded a number of jazz ensembles. He also composes film and TV scores and concert music. He firmly believes that his music should speak for itself, so he joyfully shuns any programme and programme notes. Why Princesses Don’t Grow Old, then? One does not know and does not need to. Just sit down and listen to this nicely written, colourful score. The music sometimes made me think of Michael Kamen’s epic score for Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves. It is none the worse for that. This fine piece has whetted my appetite for more of Waltzing’s concert music.

Ernie Hammes’s music is also grounded in classical and in jazz. He too was trained as a trumpet player, and he still performs either as a classical soloist or as a member of his group. He wrote the Concertino for Piccolo Trumpet, Jazz Quintet and Chamber Orchestra for one of such curious “Bach meets jazz” concerts that may sound somewhat dated. Hammes meets the challenge brilliantly with beautiful instrumental playing and good humour. His other works by Hammes here, overtly more jazz-influenced, sound – to me at least – as light music of good quality, beautifully played. He wrote Booboo after the birth of his son Niels. Tuna Melt and West End Avenue are inspired by places he used to know while studying in New York. The trumpet and the saxophone play very finely. In short, this music may not plumb any great depth but it is quite expertly written and quite atmospheric in its own way.

London-based Catherine Kontz has a substantial catalogue to her credit. The Waves is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel by the same title. (Louis Andriessen composed a score for Annette Apon’s 1982 film Golven based on Woolf’s novel.) This may be the finest piece in this release, superbly written for orchestra. While the CD blurb notes that Kontz explores feminist ideas in this piece, one can focus on the beautifully crafted music. It vastly repays repeated hearing.

Olivier Dartevelle’s fairly substantial Nouvelle Antigone is inspired by the well-known myth. The first three movements more or less portray the main characters: Antigone, messagère du destin, Le Songe d’Ismène and Creon ou l’illusion du pouvoir. The epilogue aims at achieving hard-won appeasement. The first movement, generally sombre and at times menacing, strongly contrasts with the warmly lyrical mood of the second movement, which reflects Ismene’s dream of a calm and happy life. The third movement is all brutality as Creon leads to the catastrophe. The epilogue aims at acceptance but ends with unanswered question. The work might have been subtitled “Music for an Imaginary Ballet”, for such is the music’s power to suggest musical and dramatic episodes in vivid orchestral terms. I am in no doubt: this very fine piece deserves to be heard more often. It and Kontz’s The Waves alone are worth the price of this disc.

The playing and recording are fine. This is a fine survey of all-too-little known music that deserve wider exposure.

Hubert Culot

If you purchase this recording using a link below, it generates revenue for MWI and helps us maintain free access to the site

Presto Music
Arkiv Music

Grethen (b. 1964)
Upswing (2016)
Gast Waltzing (b. 1956)
Princesses Don’t Grow Old (2019)
Ernie Hammes (b. 1968)
Concertino No.1 for Piccolo Trumpet, Jazz Quintet and Chamber Orchestra (2019)
Booboo (2017)
Tuna Melt (2017/2019)
West End Avenue (2018/2019)
Catherine Kontz (b. 1976)
The Waves (2020)
Olivier Dartevelle (b. 1957)
Nouvelle Antigone (2021)