CD cover - Mandrake in the CornerMandrake in the Corner

4-Jun-2009

A man in a top hat and Terry Thomas moustache - enter the very odd trombone world of Hakan Bjorkman...

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Håkan Björkman
Stockholm Brass Band
Conductor: Kent Jonsson
SBB Recordings: SBB003
Total Playing Time: 77.53

It is almost impossible to underestimate the musical impact that Christian Lindberg has generated both in his native Sweden and on the world wide stage. 

Globe trotter

As globe trotting trombonist he has almost single-handedly put the instrument on the “classical” map as a solo instrument to be taken seriously, vastly extending and enriching the instrument’s repertoire along the way with works by a multitude of leading composers as well as his own rapidly increasing catalogue of compositions.      

Mantle

In recent years however, with composition generally playing a more significant part in his life along with an expanding conducting career, his work as a soloist has by his own admission, gradually taken something of a lesser priority. So who to take up the mantle of torch bearer for Swedish trombonists?

Enter forty year old Håkan Björkman, principal trombone of The Royal Orchestra (Stockholm Opera), guest principal trombone of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and a member of Lindberg’s own quartet, Trombone Unit 2000.

Tall order

In fairness to Björkman it would be a tall order indeed (and a pretty unreasonable one to boot) to even begin to expect him to emulate the meteoric success of his older compatriot, but given that he was also the winner of the second Christian Lindberg International Solo Competition in Valencia last year, it is perhaps fitting that he chooses to open this new disc with Lindberg’s exhilarating Mandrake in the Corner, a work that Lindberg himself has recorded with its original orchestral accompaniment. 

Link

A further link of note is provided in the shape of Stockholm Brass Band’s conductor Kent Jonsson, principal trumpet with The Royal Orchestra and The Stockholm Sinfonietta and long term close friend and colleague of Lindberg.

Based on Lee Falk’s comic strip Mandrake the Magician, Lindberg’s piece is of almost concerto proportions in its fifteen minute continuous span and takes the listener on a perilous journey through Mandrake’s adventures and battles with the criminal underworld. 

Vivid

It’s vivid, exciting stuff both musically and, as one might expect of a piece written as a vehicle for Lindberg’s own technique, virtuosically. As is often the case with Lindberg’s music though, it’s not without its humour and quirkiness and the result is an entertaining, immensely enjoyable romp that Björkman clearly takes in his stride both in terms of his playing and, judging by his willingness to dress up Mandrake style in top hat, cloak and pencil moustache for the insert pictures, in the spirit of the occasion. 

Impressive

In what is an impressively varied programme, soloist and band take in the familiar melodic style of Peter Graham’s The Guardian along the way as well as a less familiar Philip Sparke solo in the shape of Sambesi, a lively, percussion packed samba that features some pretty nifty stuff from Björkman as well as the band’s percussion section who clearly have a great time.

Prowess

Staying with Philip Sparke, the band gets its chance to show its prowess in The Year of the Dragon, with a performance that although not always quite as tight as it could be in the final movement is marked by a cracking slow movement in which Björkman inevitably takes the solo line with stylish, yet refreshingly unsentimental results.

Lyrical

Having proved his technical abilities, the lyrical side of the soloist’s playing is demonstrated to telling effect in several well known classics including The Swan, Massenet’s Meditation from Thais and most notably Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen Hair

Here, Björkman switches to the alto trombone with suitably delicate accompaniment on harp in a stunning, stratospheric display of slow melody playing that reveals a silky, effortless legato technique that has you sinking back in your chair and marvelling; it really is terrific stuff.

Carnival of Venice

Fred Muscroft and Kent Jonsson’s joint arrangement of The Carnival of Venice will be familiar, but possibly not with trombone as the solo instrument. 

It’s challenges hold no fear for Håkan Björkman however, who’s strikingly rich and wholesome tone across all registers is matched by miraculous pyrotechnics in the closing passages. 

Morph

Pyrotechnics morph into Doolallynastics in Brian Lynn’s unaccompanied showpiece, written for the master of extended technique and avant-gardery John Kenny, the title being the nickname Kenny’s teacher Harold Nash adopted for him during his student days.

Torture

Subtitled “a brief torture for solo trombone” and bearing the instruction after the last note to “drink seven pints” (no further encouragement for most trombonists needed there then!) the piece is a technical tour de force that employs elements of jazz along the way and tests both technique and range in formidable fashion. It’s no mere study though and the disarming way in which Björkman despatches its challenges is almost alarming such is its apparent ease.

We had to reserve one final word for the piece that concludes the disc, Jan Sandström’s A Christian Song

Birthday present

For those of us that know Sandström through his Motorbike Concerto, one of the works that Christian Lindberg has toured the world with, this is as far removed from that particular piece as could be imagined. 

The title alludes to the fact that the work was written for Christian Lindberg as a 40th birthday present, the music being an achingly beautiful, reflective and lush melody that movingly pays tribute to the close friendship that Lindberg and Sandström have enjoyed for many years.

Refreshing

It is refreshing in itself that Håkan Björkman has chosen to end his disc with a work of quietude rather than virtuosity but the feeling that he imbues in the music is a clear reflection of his own love of the piece. 

It’s a special way to close a disc that will introduce many to the playing of a very gifted trombonist indeed.

Christopher Thomas

What's on this CD?

1. Mandrake in the corner, Christian Lindberg, 13.57
2. La fille aux cheveux de lin, Claude Debussy, 2.29
3. The Guardian, Peter Graham, 6.47
4. The Year of the Dragon, Philip Saprke, 14.45
5. Thais’ Meditation, Jules Massenet, 5.09
6. Sambezi, Philip Sparke, 6.34
7. The Swan, Camille Saint Saens, 2.44
8. The Carnival of Venice, Arban, 8.42
9. Cousins, Herbert Clarke, 4.07
Soloists: Hakan Bjorkman & Michael Oskarsson
10. Doolallynastics, Brian Lynn, 7.31
11. A Christian Song, Jan Sandstrom, 5.08

Total Playing Time: 77.53

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