Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Christian Lindberg: The Baroque Trombone

Dario CASTELLO (c.1590-c.1658)
Sonata Quinta for violin, trombone and basso continuo (from Sonate Concertate In Stil Moderno, Libro I, 1621) [4:41]
Sonata Duodecima for 2 violins, trombone and basso continuo (from Sonate Concertate In Stil Moderno, Libro II, 1629) [7:43]
Sonata for trombone and harpsichord/organ [4:14]
Daniel SPEER (1636-1707)
Sonata à 3 and Gigue for 2 violins, trombone and basso continuo [4:21]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Canzon 1–4 for trombone and harpsichord/organ [15:28]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von BIBER (1644-1704)
Sonata à 3 for 2 violins, trombone and basso continuo [5:57]
Dario CASTELLO (c.1590-c.1658)
Sonata Quarta for violin, trombone and basso continuo [4:09]
Giovanni Martino CESARE (1590-1667)
La Hieronyma for trombone and harpsichord (from Musicali Melodie, 1621) [2:19]
Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669)
Sonata à 3 for 2 violins, trombone and basso continuo [5:17]

Christian Lindberg trombone (sackbut)
Soloists of the Australian Chamber Orchestra
Richard Tognetti violin I
Helena Rathbone violin II
Timo-Veikko Valve cello
Maxime Bibeau double bass
Neal Peres Da Costa harpsichord/organ
Rec. September 2007 at the Eugene Goosens Hall, ABC Centre, Sydney, Australia DDD Stereo
BIS-CD-1688 [56:30]
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Given Christian Lindberg’s comprehensive exploration of the repertoire of the modern trombone, it is perhaps unsurprising that he has now turned his attentions to the 17th century repertoire of its predecessor, the sackbut. What is more surprising is that he plays this music on a copy of a period instrument. Lindberg has the most distinctive trombone sound of any living player, a combination of idiosyncratic (but usually appropriate) phrasing and a subtle, quite shallow vibrato which he often applies to the ends of longer notes. His performances on the modern instrument are also characterised by an impressive roundness of tone in the upper register.

Curiously, all of these features are just as evident on this disc as they are on any of his others, leading me to speculate about what sort of a sackbut he is using. No illustration is given in the liner (surely a missed opportunity considering what an iconic object the sackbut can be), but we are told that it is a Meinl und Lauber copy of the Erasmus Schnitzler instrument of 1551 in the collection of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremburg. This is the earliest surviving trombone anywhere in the world, so we are talking about a peashooter bore diameter (similar to a modern trumpet), a bell that would fit comfortably in your hand, plate stays that would sit rather less comfortably in the player’s hand, and a very heavy outer slide. 

Certainly, Lindberg’s tone has a woolly quality here from the instrument’s small bell, but his agility in the fast music suggests much lighter metals have been used to construct the slide of this copy than were used in the original. His instrument performs best in the middle to upper register, but can become congested lower down. Most interestingly of all, the sound has little of the throaty quality one would expect from a sackbut mouthpiece with a sharply defined rim at the throat (at the centre of the cup). The mouthpiece used here is described as a ‘Christian Lindberg baroque model mouthpiece’, presumably some compromise between these early styles and more modern conventions.

In terms of performance technique, Lindberg says he has taken advice from his brother, the lutenist Jakob Lindberg. His light ornamentation endears these performances, giving a sense of constructive and creative engagement with the 17th century scores. Phrasing is achieved through gradations of both dynamics and articulation, allowing the music an almost vocal vitality without straying too far from the narrow stylistic confines of the age. The music is from Italian and German sources, the most familiar names Frescobaldi and Biber, the former’s canzonas in a fairly straightforward, unpretentious style, the latter providing a sonata in a more proto-classical gallante mode. Of the other composers, Dario Castello moves between the two, alternating canonic counterpoint with passages of a recitative-like simplicity. Daniel Speer, a name probably known among brass players, constructs elegant and lively instrumental works from dance forms, his Gigue a particularly sprightly example.

Lindberg is accompanied throughout by members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, whose credentials in early music hardly need stating. Richard Tognetti finds an ideal light yet earthy tone in his violin timbre to compliment the sackbut, while Neal Peres de Costa excels as continuo accompanist on harpsichord and chamber organ. Balance between the players, whether worked out between themselves or adjusted in postproduction, is ideal throughout, and the tricky balance of sackbut and harpsichord never becomes a problem.

This is an idiosyncratic take on the music of the trombone’s predecessor. But then, Christian Lindberg brings an idiosyncratic approach to every project he commences. I personally, like the sackbut to sound further removed from the tone of the modern trombone, but that is not necessarily an authenticity issue. These performances stand up well on their own terms, and for the many collectors of Lindberg’s growing discography, it will provide a satisfying compliment to his many concerto recordings.

Gavin Dixon

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