Mark-Anthony Turnage emerged in the 1980s as a strikingly individual composing voice. Smouldering within his opera Greek or orchestral work Kai was a subversive, sharp-focus inner anger, incisively conveyed by a not over-extreme modernist idiom, and much coloured by jazz. Three decades later, in these two recent and much more polite orchestral statements, it’s quite hard to recognise the same composer.
From the Wreckage, a single-movement trumpet concerto, grows from bleakly vivid orchestral beginnings towards a kind of embattled radiance, as soloist Håkan Hardenberger switches from a mellow, bugle-like flugelhorn to a standard trumpet and then to a smaller, higher one. The glittering virtuosity of his playing says everything about the composer’s expertise in writing it, and conjures a musical idiom resembling a strange blend of Mahler and Miles Davis.
Speranza (Hope) is a sizeable symphony in all but name. As the Italian title indicates, its four movements – Amal (‘hope’ in Arabic), Hoffen (German), Dóchas (Gaelic) and Tikvah (Hebrew) – explore the idea of how hope can survive even in circumstances of relentless suffering: Turnage presents a tune or song from each culture, then extends and develops the musical mood. This is done with much skill, particularly in the Tikvah finale, whose Jewish folk song has a poignant sadness that’s beautifully sustained. In both works Daniel Harding’s conducting secures a fine response from the UK’s classiest and feistiest symphony orchestra, whose players latch onto the music’s menacing surges of sound (fairly few, by early Turnage standards at least) with their trademark firepower.
Malcolm Hayes is a composer, contributes to BBC Music Magazine, and is currently writing a book on Sibelius.