Magnus Lindberg: EXPO - Piano Concerto No. 2 - Al largo
01 September 2013
International Record Review
Michael RoundMagnus Lindberg's last entry in the monthly IRR Reviews Index
(May 2013) was for his cello Duello, played - almost inevitably - on fellow-Finn and close colleague Anssi Karttunen's 'Mystery Variations' album from Toccata Classics. Karttunen had earlier appeared, partnered - equally inevitably - by Kari Kriikku and Lindberg himself on an Ondine disc of chamber works for clarinet, cello and piano. My colleague Raymond S. Tuttle's December 2012 review of the latter disc shrewdly suggested tackling the orchestral works first. Readers daunted by his recommended four-disc (and no less than 15-work) Ondine compilation could start instead with this new CD, the fruit of Lindberg's three-year tenure (2009 -12) as New York Philharmonic composer-in-residence. Some tracks from this association (possibly these very ones - the documentation doesn't specify) have already appeared as downloads. The three recordings here are of the world premieres.
Lindberg sprang to fame among modernists with KRAFT, an uncompromising and iconoclastic orchestral 'happening' from 1985 inspired by the German punk rock band Einstürzende Neubauten (think Ensemble Bash with attitude). KRAFT's admirers may have anticipated further developments: later works certainly preserved its hyperactive textures and extreme instrumental techniques, but - in the manner of Penderecki, of all people, though in no way matching his sound-world - Lindberg, now in his midfifties, seems to have mellowed from young firebrand to, currently, purveyor of wholly approachable orchestral showpieces. Nothing on this disc would scare anyone who enjoys Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra.
An earnest booklet essay by Dr Ilkka Oramo, Professor Emeritus of Music Theory at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, describes Lindberg's current compositional processes. His work is now harmony-based, we learn, on a repeating-chord chaconne principle varied by modulation and changing the emphasis on overtones within a chord. Readers thinking this sounds just like the earliest developments of tonal instrumental music may bypass the rest of the theory and just listen: no hard ship, this, for many component chords are welcomingly triadbased. The opening ten-minute EXPO of 2009, an NYPO commission, even ends on a G maj or chord with added sixth.
Extreme techniques seem currently in abeyance , but the hyperactive texture remains, and restlessly so. Like a TV producer under orders to change camerashot every couple of seconds so as not to bore the viewers, Lindberg drags us through his sound-world at top speed. Here are bigband chords à la Stan Kenton, there virtuoso Gunther-Schullerish horns, here a dazzling oboe cadenza (from 11'47" in Al largo) there (and here, look, and over there) tributes to Debussy, Richard Strauss, Respighi, Christopher Rouse and other virtuoso orchestrators (Lindberg is up there with them all) - and, frequently, Ravel. (The Second Concerto's debt to the Left-Hand Concerto is freely acknowledged and approaches near quotation from 5'52" in the first movement and from 2'48" and 5'36" in the last.) But we are not allowed to linger: here, via Yefim Bronfman's astounding virtuosity in a relentlessly alpha-male solo piano part, is Bartok, there Prokofiev, even Bliss and Ireland - and didn't Chopin's Study, Op. 25 No. 12, just flit in and out of the picture (finale, 6'46")? We follow on, breathlessly, thinking 'Will the real Magnus Lindberg please stand up, and keep still for a bit?'
The 24-minute Al largo dates from 2010, yet post-Romantic gestures still prevail: some languorous Debussian strings (from 8'44" and 16'47") provide the longest points of repose in the whole disc. Here and throughout, New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert (the first native New Yorker to hold the post, incidentally) secures magnificent playing from every orchestra member, all deservedly named in the booklet. The recorded sound (Avery Fisher Hall) is exemplary, the documentation (in English, and not Finnish but Danish) comprehensive. Applause, however, is perfunctory, averaging just seven seconds per work before fading out.
You may feel that gestures alone, however enticingly coloured, are insufficient to sustain symphonic works of this length (nearly half an hour for the concerto) without benefit of memorable themes or sustained ostinatos. You may feel that Lindberg's current works are simply 'music about music': calculated entertainments rather than arising from any deeper prompting. 'AI largo ' is apparently a nautical term signifying 'on the open sea, out of sight of land': you may wonder if this is where Lindberg currently is, and view his abandonment of modernism as a kind of tacking back towards shallow water. This may be so - but he's certainly having a lot of fun on the voyage, and his current sound-world invites us along in no uncertain terms. If you enjoy being dazzled, hop aboard.