In June 2022, the BIS label is releasing an important new recording that features French trumpet repertoire performed by the noted soloist Håkan Hardenberger along with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Fabien Gabel. The recording is the realization of Mr. Hardenberger’s goal to record the trumpet concertante works of Henri Tomasi, André Jolivet, Betsy Jolas … plus Florent Schmitt’s Suite en trois parties, Op.133 which he composed in 1955.
It’s high-time that this dream came true, considering that Mr. Hardenberger studied at the Paris Conservatoire in his early years and has presented most of these pieces in concert on a regular basis in the decades since.
I was privileged to interview Messrs. Hardenberger and Gabel at the time of the recording sessions in Stockholm this past August. And now, with the release of the new BIS recording (which proves to be a stellar artistic achievement upon hearing it), Pierre-Jean Tribot of Crescendo Magazine has interviewed Maestro Gabel about the recording project.
In the Crescendo interview, in addition to asking Maestro Gabel about the repertoire on the recording, Tribot also asks him to discuss aspects of Florent Schmitt’s artistry that go beyond the 1955 Trumpet Suite to encompass the composer’s wider musical legacy.
The Crescendo interview was published on June 15, 2022. For those who know the French language, you can click or tap here to access the article. If you would prefer to read the article in English, a translation of the text is presented below.
Conductor Fabien Gabel is making a splash with the release of an album in which he accompanies the formidable trumpet player Håkan Hardenberger in concertante works from the French repertoire, including concertos by Tomasi and Jolivet. This BIS album, recorded with the excellent Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, is a great success that reimagines the [artistic] approach to these scores. The musician answers questions from Crescendo Magazine.
P-JT: How was this new recording project conceived?
FG: I accompanied Håkan Hardenberger for the first time a few years ago in Helsinki in Zimmermann’s Concerto [“Nobody Knows da Trouble I See”]. Naturally, he and I talked about repertoire! We observed that the “Finale” of Tomasi’s concerto was too short and that the “reference” numbers [in the score] did not logically follow each other.
I did some research with Claude Tomasi [Henri Tomasi’s son], who sent me a copy of the trumpet and piano manuscript. It soon became clear: the “Finale” was longer and written almost in one go!
From there came the idea of ”recreating” it (none of us know if the Dutch trumpeter who premiered the concerto [Jas Doets] had played it in its entirety). Since the orchestral material couldn’t be found, the missing parts had to be orchestrated. For this, Franck Villard has done a remarkable job. We played the piece in Québec, in Paris [and in Malmö], then recorded it in Stockholm.
P-JT: The program features works for trumpet and orchestra. You yourself studied the trumpet and you are also the son of the great trumpet player Bernard Gabel. Does accompanying a trumpeter for a recording of great works from the repertoire (about which you must know the smallest details) have particular significance?
FG: It is above all the culmination of a common purpose. Håkan Hardenberger and I have forged strong artistic and personal ties through this adventure. Surprisingly, Håkan had never recorded any of the great [twentieth century] French concertos with orchestra before. So we had a strong desire to do this together — both of us being aware of our love for French music!
P-JT: Listening to the disc, we are struck by your wonderful collaboration with the soloist. Jolivet and Tomasi’s concertos are performed with an incredible sense of style and nuance. What was it like to work with Håkan Hardenberger?
FG: In the simplest way possible, actually – both of us having a deep knowledge of this repertoire. We spoke very little, knowing that we understood each other musically. But we have broken away from certain “traditions”! These concertos are all-too-often approached as competition pieces, with little freedom in the end.
P-JT: I, too, have the impression that you make real music with works that we tend to consider “obligatory passages” of the repertoire – too often treated as competition pieces and reduced to their virtuoso aspects. For you, what is the stylistic richness of these scores?
FG: Tomasi and Jolivet are great melodists. The slow movements of the concertos are absolutely beautiful! Schmitt is a master of form (even though the Suite is relatively short) – as is the score by Betsy Jolas [Onze lieder].
I would say that the consummate sense of color, articulation and orchestration are common threads between these four composers.
P-JT: This album presents [the Suite en trois parties] score by Florent Schmitt, whose Psaume XLVII  you recently conducted in Paris with the Choir of Radio France and the Orchestre National de France. Please tell us about this experience – which must have been a challenge since that score is as unclassifiable as it is fascinating.
FG: Psalm XLVII is a colossal work. It is the major French choral work of the twentieth century and was regularly performed in Paris by the greatest French conductors (Inghelbrecht, Paray, Martinon, Rosenthal, etc.) until the beginning of the 1970s. But I discovered with amazement that Karajan, Krips and Ormandy had also conducted it, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf had sung it in Paris under the direction of Markevitch!
The score is fascinating because we switch very subtly from the nineteenth to the twentieth century when moving through the score. It has “Germanic” dimensions in its form while having a very refined orchestration. The choir part is sometimes “inhuman” [in its difficulty], and you have to deal with many balance challenges, especially in a modern performance space.
P-JT: Do you think the time has come for a Florent Schmitt revival in France?
FG: Florent Schmitt’s salvation comes more from abroad; none of his orchestral pieces are being scheduled in France next season. There are always preconceptions and, above all, misunderstandings that have more to do with Schmitt’s personality than with his music. We only remember the controversial remarks, certainly very regrettable, that he made in 1933 at a concert of the music of Kurt Weill – even as he was also the friend of Schoenberg and his greatest defender in France.
Florent Schmitt was an “independent” [musician] all his life, imbued with a strong personality and a formidable, caustic humor (the radio interviews are irresistible!). I have no hesitation in saying that his music is just as important as Ravel’s.
He was very prolific and his orchestral works are masterful. They were admired by composers from Ravel to Dutilleux via Stravinsky. The latter recognized how essential La Tragédie of Salomé (dedicated to him) was in his own creation of Le Sacre du printemps.
The time of purgatory is over and Schmitt’s music is played on all continents. I would like France to restore to him the place he deserves in the Pantheon of great French musicians.
The new Hardenberger/Gabel BIS recording of French trumpet concertante works is being released internationally this month and is already available at all major online music retail outlets including Amazon, ArchivMusic, Presto Music, and others. I recommend that you acquire these definitive performances, and can confidently predict that you’ll be very pleased by what you hear.