Magnus Lindberg: EXPO - Piano Concerto No. 2 - Al largo
13 July 2013
The Finnish composer-pianist Magnus Lindberg has been the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic since 2009, at which time the post was initiated by the NYPO’s current Music Director, Alan Gilbert.
I have been aware of Lindberg for some time, but this was my first opportunity for in-depth listening. First impressions were of a restless, often aggressive musical persona; of constantly changing musical landscapes, and brightly coloured, dramatic orchestration. Lindberg’s music is not excessively dissonant or discordant, and he does not shy away from key-centres either. In that sense his music is, as represented here, relatively accessible. On the other hand, it is very complex, and almost profligate in its material; none of these works has a single dominating motif … that I could discern, anyway.
As you listen, you become more and more aware of how cunningly shaped his music is, following definite emotional paths, and evolving, as it were, organically. Thus Expo, on track 1, has a kaleidoscopic feel to it, yet in the end seems satisfyingly inevitable and complete. The performance by the NYPO in the première, recorded here, is quite wonderful, reminding us what a very great ensemble this is.
They are matched by the astonishing pianism of Bronfman in the concerto. This is in three movements, which play without a break. Though it requires both hands to perform (and how - an extra one or two wouldn’t have come amiss), it has a close and intriguing affinity with the Ravel D minor concerto, written for Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in WW1. Lindberg’s work follows the same kind of progress as the Ravel - from an opening in Stygian depths of darkness to an affirmative conclusion. There are also numerous specific references to the French composer’s themes, rhythmic patterns and textures that are both fascinating and maddeningly elusive. It is a fine and often thrilling work, and Bronfman’s performance, again in the première, is breathtakingly assured.
The Italian phrase Al largo - apparently man being offshore, on the open sea - has much in common with Expo in its sense of shifting land- and seascapes. It is, though, a much longer, more fully developed work, dominated by heroic brass fanfares, busy tuned percussion, and delicate woodwind writing; the solo oboe is particularly prominent. Again there is a sense of finding, then losing, then rediscovering tonal centres as points of rest and stability.
This is an exciting CD, brilliantly performed and recorded; as an introduction to one of the most approachable and individual voices in contemporary music, it could hardly be bettered. Dramatic, highly-coloured music from one of the most approachable and individual voices in contemporary music.