JAAP NICO HAMBURGER (b. 1959): Piano Concerto.
Catalogue Number: 09W059
Label: Leaf Music
Description: This is a powerful, intense work, largely tonal and thoroughly approachable yet unusual in a number of respects. Hamburger graduated almost simultaneously from medical school and music conservatory, and voluntarily gave up a burgeoning career as concert pianist for decades of distinguished work as a cardiologist. He rebuilt his musical career after moving to Canada from the Netherlands in 2000 as part of his medical career, and has written a considerable amount of music since. He is clearly very conscious of his Jewish heritage, and his first two symphonies, a recording of which we may apparently look forward later this year, treat themes of Holocaust survival and war. This concerto presents something of a conundrum, in that it too plainly has vivid programmatic intent, but presumably by design this seems not to be documented - certainly not in the largely content-free booklet that comes with this disc. In the first movement, the composer’s main influences seem to be Feinberg and Mahler. The piece begins quietly and mournfully, but tension rises with a Mahlerian brass entry. Suddenly a terrifyingly mechanistic passage explodes out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly, with a return to the opening material and the piano's first, sombre solo entry. The second movement begins as an energetic, sarcastic scherzo, very indebted to Shostakovich and Prokofiev, and here the soloist is to the fore from the start. About a third of the way through, sirens attempt to drown out the music which gamely continues, followed by an explosive climax. What follows is a sustained lament, punctuated by shattered shards of sound from the piano and a cello. The side drum ushers in a cadenza, which could have wandered in from one of Feinberg's early sonatas. The orchestra joins in, and quickly the scherzando character of the movement is restored. The ending is snatched off in mid phrase. The last movement, Molto Adagio, is tragic and pained, spare of texture, haunted by a ghostly child's song in violin harmonics, even the piano torn between gentle reflection and sudden spasms of violence; here again one thinks of Shostakovich, or perhaps even more, of Weinberg. The concerto fades out in haunting, fragile, unresolved resignation. The disc contains only this one 22 minute work, and is priced accordingly. Assaff Weisman (piano), Orchestra Métropolitain de Montréal; Vincent de Kort.