Sunday, 24 April 2016

Cellist Anssi Karttunen and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hannu Lintu perform Magnus Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No.2 and his orchestral works Al Largo and Era on an outstanding new release from Ondine that should bring this composer many new admirers

Magnus Lindberg (b.1958) was born in Helsinki and studied composition at the Sibelius Academy with Einojuhani Rautavaara and Paavo Heininen. The latter encouraged his pupils to look beyond the prevailing Finnish conservative and nationalist aesthetics and to explore the works of the European avant-garde. 1980 saw the founding of the Ears Open Society which aimed to encourage a greater awareness of modernism and included members such as Lindberg, Eero Hämeeniemi, Jouni Kaipainen, Kaija Saariaho and Esa-Pekka Salonen. In 1981, Lindberg went to Paris to study with Vinko Globokar and Gérard Grisey. Other contacts around this time were Brian Ferneyhough, Helmut Lachenmann and York Höller.

He made his breakthrough with two large-scale works, Action-Situation-Signification (1982) and Kraft (1983-85) but, during the late 1980s, his music transformed itself towards a new modernist classicism in which harmony, rhythm, counterpoint and melody received a fresh interpretation.  This brought forth works such as Kinetics (1988), Marea (1989-90), Joy (1989-90), Aura (1993-94) and Arena (1994-95).

Compositions such as Fresco (1997), Cantigas (1999), Concerto for Orchestra (2002-3), Sculpture (2005) and Era (2012) along with concertos for clarinet (2002), violin (2006) and two for cello (1999 and 2013) have confirmed him as one of Finland’s finest composers.

Lindberg was Composer-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic between 2009 and 2012 with new works including the concert-opener EXPO premiered to launch Alan Gilbert's tenure as the orchestra's Music Director, Al Largo for orchestra, Souvenir for ensemble and Piano Concerto No.2 premiered by Yefim Bronfman in 2012. He was appointed Composer in Residence with the London Philharmonic Orchestra for three years from the 2014/15 season with commissions including a second violin concerto for Frank Peter Zimmermann.

Three of the works mentioned above, Al Largo, Cello Concerto No.2 and Era have been recorded by Ondine  with cellist Anssi Karttunen  and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hannu Lintu

ODE 1281-5

Though having no actual program, Al largo (2009-10) is an Italian phrase for being offshore. It was premiered by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall in 2010.

Brass open with a fanfare before the music broadens as timpani and the rest of the orchestra add drama. Soon the strings bring a surging passage before a piano is heard amongst lower textures of the orchestra in a brooding section full of sustained tension. The music moves through passages of lovely luminescence, full of terrific colours as it swirls forward. The music often positively glows and there are moments of beautiful delicate textures. There are passages of faster moving textures, leading to a number of climaxes as this work brings its endless flow of creative ideas. Eventually there is a moment of quieter calm as the strings bring a section of much beauty.

Little brass motifs rise out of the orchestral texture as the drama returns. The piano brings a series of phrases that herald a passage for oboe which playfully dances around a small string ensemble before the orchestra rises to a dramatic peak pointed up by timpani. It builds through some terrific bars, with timpani thundering out, to a climax before scurrying strings lead to calmer waters. A little brass group bubbles up, joined by woodwind as the translucence returns. The music builds to another climax, an even more furious one before falling quieter as a broad theme arrives, moving slowly through some very fine, shimmering string passages before a final outburst rises and falls away to allow a wonderfully light textured coda.

This is a quite magnificent outpouring of ideas, fabulously orchestrated. It is given a terrific performance by Hannu Lintu and his Finnish players.

It was Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic that premiered Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No. 2 (2013) at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA in 2013 with cellist Anssi Karttunen, the soloist on this recording.

I The solo cello opens this work with a plaintive theme over a hushed orchestral layer, repeated by various instruments as the orchestra expands the theme. The cello soon brings rich textures over the lower strings, all the while gaining in power as the soloist develops some very fine ideas. There are little bursts of sound from the cello, reflected by the orchestra before rising through passages of increasing passion. The cello finds moments of lovely textures over a rich orchestral backdrop. There are pulses of sound from the orchestra as the cello continues to develop the theme with moments of exquisite detail from the soloist. There are lovely harmonies in a gorgeous moment towards the end of the movement when the soloist finds so many fine textures and effects before moving into the second movement.

II Here the soloist rhapsodises around the orchestra finding phrases higher in the cello’s register to bring a feeling of great emotion. Lindberg uses brass to add a luminous brilliance before a brilliant cadenza, no less full of fine harmonies, textures and colours. The music increases steadily in tempo whilst finding many little ideas before the orchestra bursts back in in a terrific moment, bubbling and luminescent, with the cello re-joining to lead forward into the finale.

III The brass sound out a theme, taken up by the cello, and soon find a rhythmic quality as soloist and orchestra stride forward through passages of almost motoric force.  Karttunen brings some marvellous fast and furious phrases before falling into a broad melody, slowing as the cello takes the melody over a lovely orchestral accompaniment, a lovely moment. The music falls lower and richer before quizzical little rising and falling phrases for cello lead to a peaceful coda.

Surely this fine work is one that cellists will want to take up.

Era (2012) was premiered by David Robertson and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in 2013. Era refers to the period before the First World War, this work reflecting the musical upheavals of that period.

Deep string phrases bring a dark opening before brass add colour and the music tries to lighten. There is a feeling of intense anticipation with fine textures and harmonies as the music tries to find a balance between the darker drama and a brighter atmosphere. There are bursts of drama as the music rises up, eventually finding a greater transparency of orchestral sound. There are a myriad of instrumental ideas that scurry and flow through the texture before another outburst of darker, forceful drama appears. The textures lighten but the music rises powerfully again, though now with lighter textures. Soon a rhythmic quality is found but the music continues to find variations of the rising orchestral surges that have gone before. Later a rather romantic version of the theme briefly surfaces through the textures of the orchestra. Tubular bells add to the lighter textures and colours before the music finds even more energy to rise dramatically. The rhythmic variation returns briefly with pizzicato strings before a moment of calm arrives. However, the forward surge cannot always be restrained, rising through further wonderful textures before a passage of delicate beauty is found where Lindberg uses orchestral means of almost chamber proportions.  The music soon rises up forcefully in a fine climax before flowing with a fine transparency towards the coda. There are some stunning timpani strokes before the orchestra finds hints of the opening darker textures and a powerful coda.

This is another remarkably fine work that brings a feeling of tremendous organic growth.

This outstanding new release from Ondine should bring Magnus Lindberg many new admirers. Ondine provides a very fine SACD recording from the Helsinki Music Centre, Finland and there are excellent booklet notes by Finnish music specialist Kimmo Korhonen.
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