In August 2021, the renowned trumpet virtuoso Håkan Hardenberger joined with conductor Fabien Gabel in Stockholm to make a recording of several gleaming jewels of twentieth century French trumpet concertante music. Together with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Hardenberger and Gabel have recorded a program that includes:
- Henri Tomasi: Trumpet Concerto (original version – 1948)
- André Jolivet: Concertino for Trumpet, Piano & Orchestra (1948) + Trumpet Concerto No. 2 (1954)
- Florent Schmitt: Suite en trois parties, Op. 133 (1955)
- Betsy Jolas: Onze Lieder for Trumpet & Chamber Orchestra (1977)
It’s an interesting program in which Florent Schmitt’s Trumpet Suite is the next-to-youngest of the five pieces – even though Schmitt himself was born decades before the other composers.
For Håkan Hardenberger, the new recording, which will be released on the BIS label in Spring 2022, has been the opportunity to document his interpretations of these artistically significant works.
A native of Sweden, Hardenberger’s first studies were with the renowned trumpeter Bo Nilsson in his home country. In his more than three decades of concertizing, in addition to playing the classic trumpet repertoire (Haydn, Hummel, Stamitz, Telemann, etc.) and the great pieces of the twentieth century French school, Hardenberger has championed the music of contemporary composers such as Peter Maxwell Davies, Hans Werner Henze, György Ligeti and Harrison Birtwistle — including introducing works written expressly for him.
It is fair to say that Hardenberger is immersed in the music of this new BIS recording. Having studied in Paris before embarking on his international solo career, the pieces have never been out of his repertoire. And yet, there are aspects of the recording that represent new facets. In the case of the Schmitt Suite in particular, this is the first time he has performed the piece with an orchestra instead of the piano.
Conductor Fabien Gabel is the ideal collaborator for the BIS recording project. Not only is he one of the best-known and highly regarded French directors active on the international scene today, the trumpet was Gabel’s “main” instrument before his career as a conductor began. To top things off, Fabien’s own father, Bernard Gabel, was the long-time principal trumpet player at the Paris Opéra Orchestra, so the tradition of trumpet playing runs deep in his family.
Add to this the fact that Gabel and Hardenberger have known each other for several decades – and have performed together on numerous occasions – it makes their artistic collaboration on this new recording that much more fitting.
While all of the five pieces on the forthcoming BIS release have been commercially recorded before, the catalogue of current offerings isn’t all that extensive. In the case of Florent Schmitt’s Trumpet Suite, for instance, while several recordings exist of the version the composer penned for trumpet and piano, to date there has been just one recording ever made of the orchestral version (dating from 1998 on the Pierre Verany/Arion label, featuring soloist Éric Aubier).
In the case of the Tomasi Trumpet Concerto, the new BIS release will be the first-ever commercial recording of the composer’s original version of the piece – for which some 60 bars of music have been restored to the final movement. Reassembling the concerto, including orchestrating the missing music (which had survived only in a piano reduction manuscript) was a joint initiative on the part of Fabien Gabel, Håkan Hardenberger, Claude Tomasi (son of the composer), and conductor/orchestrator Franck Villard (a specialist in the music of Henri Tomasi).
Reportedly, upon reviewing the Tomasi score Messrs. Hardenberger and Gabel concluded that not only must they perform it, they should also record it. As a BIS recording artist for many years, Hardenberger used his contacts there to lobby for the new project, while Gabel begin working on the financial aspects to turn the idea of the recording into a reality.
Recognizing the artistic importance of the new BIS recording, I approached the two artsts to ask if they would share their thoughts and perspectives about the music included on their program — particularly the Schmitt and Tomasi pieces. Highlights of our discussion, which was conducted in English, are presented below.
PLN: When did you first become acquainted with Florent Schmitt’s Suite en trois parties?
Håkan Hardenberger: It was in the 1980s when I was studying in Paris. I participated in the Toulon International Trumpet Competition. The Schmitt Suite was a set piece in that competition and Roger Delmotte was president of the jury. I was fortunate to win that competition – and I have loved and performed the piece ever since then.
Fabien Gabel: I studied the piece but never performed it in public. I’m younger than Håkan, and during my time of studies the piece was rarely asked for in competitions – and it was never included in audition repertoire.
PLN: It’s interesting that the two of you share a common background as trumpet players. When did you first meet, and how have your musical paths crossed in the years since?
Fabien Gabel: On a personal level, Håkan knew my dad who was also a trumpet player, and they worked together. So I think I first met him when I was just five years old! He and I also studied with the same trumpet teacher in Paris – Pierre Thibaud – who often spoke about Håkan in glowing terms. Of course, Håkan has always been an example for me as well, when I was a trumpet player.
But we began working together professionally several years ago in Helsinki where we performed the concerto for trumpet called Nobody Knows the Trouble I See by Bernd Alois Zimmermann.
Håkan Hardenberger: Whether he’s been a trumpet player or not, I simply enjoy making music with Fabien!
PLN: Concerning Schmitt’s piece, what special musical qualities do you see in the Suite?
Håkan Hardenberger: I consider Florent Schmitt to be an important link between Debussy and Ravel on one hand, and Stravinsky on the other. All four composers are heroes of mine, incidentally.
Fabien Gabel: From a technical standpoint, the Suite is an incredible challenge in terms of playing and articulation. To my mind, some passages stretch the limits of the instrument’s possibilities; it’s almost as if the music were written for the clarinet! But a few players like Håkan have the ability to surmount those difficulties and make the music sound easy. They are rare, however!
PLN: Do you have a particular favorite of the three movements that make up the Suite?
Fabien Gabel: The outer two movements are very virtuosic and also fun to play for both the soloist and the orchestra. This contrasts with the second movement which is very intimate and extremely lyrical.
Håkan Hardenberger: The elegance of the first movement and the energy of the third are wonderful. But I would have to pick the second movement as my favorite. We really don’t have anything else like it in the trumpet literature.
PLN: Mr. Hardenberger, you recorded the Suite with pianist Roland Pöntinen for Philips Classics back in 1989 – and now 30 years later you are making this new recording with orchestra. Has your conception of the music changed over this time?
Håkan Hardenberger: I’ve played the piece all along and I’m sure the music has grown with me – but the text always remains the same!
At the same time, this is the first time I’ve performed the piece with an orchestra, and that changes a few things in timing and volume. I would like to perform it more often with orchestras in the future, but I wish the piece was just a bit longer which would make it easier to get onto programs.
PLN: How about your experiences in conducting this music, Maestro?
Fabien Gabel: This recording with Håkan is the first time I’ve conducted the piece. But he and I will perform it again in Sweden – in concert with the Malmö Symphony in October. I think it might be only the second or third public performance of the music with orchestra since its premiere back in 1956 with Maurice André.
PLN: In what ways does Schmitt’s orchestration of the piece change the “atmospherics” of the music, when compared to the piano version?
Fabien Gabel: I’d say that the orchestration brings much more clarity, along with a huge variety of colors that we don’t really hear in the piano version. The orchestration also allows for a much more natural dialogue between the solo trumpet and the accompaniment.
PLN: Your new recording is a musically rewarding collection of twentieth century trumpet concertante pieces by André Jolivet, Henri Tomas and Betsy Jolas in addition to Florent Schmitt. How did you build the program?
Håkan Hardenberger: To me, the works on the recording are the most important pieces in the French trumpet repertoire from the mid-twentieth century. They range in date from the late 1940s (the Tomasi Concerto and Jolivet Concertino) to the late 1970s (the Jolas piece).
Fabien Gabel: These pieces are true milestones of the trumpet repertoire. Unfortunately, many musicians are not aware of the importance of Florent Schmitt in French music in the twentieth century, but I would compare his talent and influence to Ravel. Let’s imagine a trumpet concerto composed by Ravel. Schmitt did that – but in a different language and keeping his singular personality.
The Betsy Jolas work is dear to Håkan’s heart, in part because the piece was dedicated to our trumpet teacher.
The two Jolivet pieces are interesting as well. The Concertino was choreographed for a ballet at the Paris Opéra in performances that featured the famous Robert Delmotte as the trumpet soloist. The second Jolivet concerto is another great piece, influenced by jazz.
PLN: Your new recording also includes the original version of Tomasi’s Trumpet Concerto. What can you tell us about this version of the piece?
Håkan Hardenberger: Fabien was instrumental in finding the missing music of the Tomasi. Those 60 restored bars of the third movement make for a more balanced concerto in my opinion.
Fabien Gabel: It’s an interesting story. During our first meeting, Håkan and I talked about some apparently missing music in the Finale. Clues included the extreme brevity of the movement along with some rather incoherent rehearsal numbers in the score. I then contacted Henri Tomasi’s son, Claude, who sent me a copy of his father’s manuscript score. It was then that we discovered that the original Finale included 60 extra bars of music.
The question is why the composer cut them from the score when it was published. Håkan and I can speculate about the reasons – including the difficulty of the music and the length of the concerto for broadcast performance. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to locate the original orchestration, but Franck Villard, who is a specialist in Tomasi’s music, did amazing work!
[Note: Additional insights into Henri Tomasi and his Trumpet Concerto are contained in a 2003 doctoral dissertation prepared by Daniel Walter Shipman, which can be viewed here.]
PLN: Thank you both for taking time to talk about your new recording. In closing, are there additional thoughts you’d like to share about Florent Schmitt’s music and its place in the repertoire?
Håkan Hardenberger: I’ve always found the Schmitt Suite to be one of the few truly great pieces for trumpet – and now that I finally know it, I’m in love with the orchestration, too. I wonder which version of the piece came first?
Fabien Gabel: I’m glad the music world has started to realize that Florent Schmitt’s music is as important as Ravel’s and Roussel’s. I’m confident that he will find his rightful place in the grand répertoire. I’m very pleased that artistic managers of orchestras are asking about Schmitt’s music more and more.
Of course, I do my best to program his pieces as often as I can – and I’m happy to report that I’m playing more Florent Schmitt than ever this season.
We are pleased to welcome this new recording of twentieth century French works for trumpet and orchestra featuring the consummate musical artistry of Håkan Hardenberger and Fabien Gabel. The release is planned for Spring 2022 on the BIS label. More details on the debut date will be announced as soon as they are available.