Austrian composer H K Gruber visited Australia in 2001 for the Melbourne Metropolis Festival of new music, and as a conductor has championed the music of Brett Dean. This disc of three concertos spans more than 30 years of his composing career, with Busking commissioned by trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger in 2007.
In this concertante piece – banjo and accordion serve as continuo instruments but with plenty of soloistic flourishes – Gruber captures the colourful cacophony of street musicians outdoing one another for the attention of passers-by. The Presto opens with a rustic, almost throwaway melody sounded casually in the trumpet’s detached mouthpiece; accordion and banjo chime in and before long the strings have picked up the theme. Like any good tune, once heard fleetingly it will be hummed incessantly. What sets this one apart is Hardenberger’s fierce virtuosity, and the meticulously constructed textures brought vividly to life by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
By the second movement it’s grown dark but the musos play on, with seedy urban noir on the breath of languorous jazz trumpet; the third movement has a quasi-improvisational quality. If only Hardenberger and company would take a leaf out of Joshua Bell’s book and let loose on the subway.
The two earlier violin concertos, conducted by the composer, are less immediately exotic than Busking but no less imaginative. Commissioned by the Alban Berg Foundation, Nebelsteinmusik quotes the serialist composer’s Lyric Suite, while the First Concerto is richly orchestrated; a single-movement tour de force for violinist Katarina Andreasson.