LINDBERG: Al Largo; Cello Concerto No. 2 – Era-Anssi Karttunen, cello – Finnish Radio Sym. Orch./ Hannu Lintu – Ondine

by | Apr 23, 2016 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Brilliantly-orchestrated modern tonal music from Finnish master Magnus Lindberg.

MAGNUS LINDBERG: Al Largo; Cello Concerto No. 2 – Era-Anssi Karttunen, cello – Finnish Radio Sym. Orch./ Hannu Lintu – Ondine multichannel SACD ODE 12118-5, 66:28 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

If you’re looking for orchestral music that’s dramatic, harmonically lucid, gloriously colorful, exuberant and powerfully immediate, this disc is for you. Finnish composer, conductor and pianist Magnus Lindberg (b. 1958) has written music of enormous stylistic diversity in his 37-year career. The music on this CD is a far cry from his avant-garde beginning. Although all Finnish composers bear the imprint of Jean Sibelius, Lindberg absorbed the influence of the European avant-garde (Stockhausen) as well as Finnish composers Rautavaara and Heininen at the Sibelius Academy. In 1980 he founded the avant-garde Ears Open Society with colleagues Esa Pekka Salonen, Kaija Saariaho and others and wrote the influential Kraft, (1983-85), a large orchestral work that included percussion on scrap metal and spoken word. Later works included aspects of minimalism, free jazz, progressive rock and East Asian music. His most popular work was the Clarinet Concerto (2002), a folk-inspired work that demonstrates his virtuosic and opulent orchestral skills. He believes that the orchestra is not an institution of the past. “…there is no real equivalent for the mental and physical energy you get from an orchestra playing at its optimum level, and creating its own collective ‘sound image’.”  The works on this disc are examples of Lindberg’s credo.

Two of the works on this disc were composed during his term of Composer in Resident with the New York Philharmonic (2009-12). Al Largo (2009-10) was composed during Lindberg’s term as Composer in Resident with the New York Philharmonic. He defines the title, Al Largo, as “being so far out to sea that the shore is no longer in sight.” Although the 25-minute orchestral score has no maritime program, it refers to a work that is energetic and exciting on the surface, but underneath there is “deep structure that evokes something large and spacious.” The opening trumpet fanfare initiates a radiantly cinematic, percussively colorful section that gradually recedes in tempo, shimmering (there’s Ravel here—Ma mere l’Oye), dramatically robust, yet dreamily romantic. The second half follows the same tempo pattern, with frenetic excitement becoming a glowingly rich string chorale that is nothing less than gorgeous, ending quietly. Lintu reveals the surface underneath the excitement, and the SACD recording is resplendently clear.

Era (2013) refers to the time in music before World War I that saw the transition from the late Romantic composers to the early 20th century, specifically the conflict between Stravinsky and Schoenberg. This tone poem is structured on a low-pitched bass sound (a bourdon) that rises to a high register. Lindberg references the beginning of the Sibelius Fourth Symphony as an inspiration and then introduces a second bourdon in the middle of this twenty minute work. Other musical references include Scriabin, Richard Strauss (Till Eulenspiegel), and Wagner. It plays as a dramatic modernized Strauss tone poem, with flecks of good spirits sprinkled throughout. Listening to this work is like having a warm, sensuous tidal wave wash over your ears. It’s nothing less than intoxicating.

The Cello Concerto was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2013, and is a re-written and extended version of Santa Fe Project, a duo for cello and piano written in 2006. Even though it’s scored for a smaller, almost Classically-sized orchestra, it has the same late Romantic feel to it. The absence of piano, percussion and harp make the dialogue between cello and orchestra clear. The first few minutes contain some lush, beautiful string melodies that are accompanied by musical cells that the cello elaborates throughout the work. The central section becomes dramatic, the cello and orchestra undertaking a spirited dialogue, with an extensive cadenza speaking forcefully. The final section becomes even more excited, rhythmically pointed, but ending in a patina of serene beauty. It’s a multi-faceted work that cellist Anssi Karttunen, who premiered it, plays with expertise and assurance.

Magnus Lindberg is clearly one of the most significant of several major living Finnish composers. Throughout this stunningly performed and recorded disc, Lindberg shines as one of the most brilliant orchestrators of symphonic music of our time.

—Robert Moon


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