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S & H Concert Review

RELATED ROCKS (2): Sibelius Kullervo; Lindberg Kraft Philharmonia;Polytech Choir/Esa-Pekka Salonen with Monica Groop, Jorma Hynninen & Toimii. RFH London, 2 December 2001 (PGW)

Kullervo Op.7 (1892), a Symphonic Poem which preceded the symphonies, was a long, heavy and unrewarding hour and twenty minutes, despite committed playing by the Philharmonia enthused by Esa-Pekka Salonen's advocacy. The Finnish Polytech Choir did all that was possible for the male chorus unison narration of the nasty little story of unwilling sibling coupling, leading to remorse and suicide of the eponymous 'hero' of this part of the 20,000-verse collection of Kalevala texts, which became a focus for Finnish nationalism and inspired the country's composers, none more so than Sibelius. The solo parts are unrewarding, and I was not as engaged with Kullervo (Jorma Hynninen) and his un-named sister (Monica Groop) as one can be with Siegmund and Sieglinde.

Sibelius was a hard act for the next generation of Finnish composers to follow, and his dominant stature was something of a millstone around their necks. Lindberg has certainly kicked over all the traces. For the composer's own perspective of Kraft (1985) click here onto Marc Bridle's interview with the composer. From the Philharmonia's website, we learn that Kraft was commissioned by the Helsinki Festival and was written between 1983 and 1985 and is described as "one of the masterpieces of Finnish orchestral music". It lasts 27 minutes, makes a huge impression on those who hear it, and the whole experience can be best appreciated when seen in a live concert. It is performed by a chamber group of amplified musicians and an orchestra, alongside unconventional percussion and an enormous suspended Tam Tam.


At this point I pause. A couple of minutes in, that Tam Tam (which must have presented a serious health hazard to the hearing of the expensively seated listeners immediately in front of it) collapsed and toppled forward onto two of them. Efforts were made to put it up on its frame again (clearly a first priority - the performance continued with Salonen impervious to its absence from the cacophony he was unleashing) and one victim was taken out with a bleeding head, to be followed after a few minutes by two people with a large red medical aid bag. The other victim, who had been only bruised, stuck it out, but kept a very wary eye upon the offending instrument throughout the performance.

Some "comments and personal recollections" below, also from the elaborate and comprehensive Related Rocks Philharmonia/London Sinfonietta website, give some idea of what to expect if Kraft is given again in the future somewhere near you: "- - those sounds--so varied, so lively, so unexpected, so alluring - - seemed to set nature herself vibrating, even to the point of shaking swarms of gnats out of the trees… an orchestral blow out that asks for just about everything except the kitchen sink - - it was hard to tell; one might have been hidden behind the rack of junked automobile parts that the composer whacked on from time to amazing time. - - Loudspeakers surrounded the audience. There were gongs everywhere. "Kraft's" reputation stems from its sophisticated intellectual and acoustical character, and the, well, power and strength--even brutality--of the sound …the impression is of extending possibilities. - - "

The audience seemed to buy all that, though I didn't, and two eminences in the Royal Box party (the Finnish Ambassador?) disappeared - not too surprisingly, because they had to share their box with two of those large loudspeakers - and a few others left before the end. Knowing it would all be over in half an hour, I stayed, having many times in the past greatly enjoyed Lindberg's music. Aura for large orchestra was a stupendous experience at the Aldeburgh Festival and subsequently impressed on CD [DG 463 184-2], and more recently I reported positively on Lindberg as featured composer at Porvoo .

Kraft was a far from restful experience. Members of the orchestra (in black) and members of the Finnish experimental ensemble Toimii (in cricketing whites) followed the first aid people in continually processing around the auditorium, often having to hurry to reach their appointed destinations in due time. It made little difference to the undifferentiated noise, which for most of the time beset us from all sides. Centre stage, Salonen conducted in all directions, occasionally banged things, and composer Lindberg played piano and did his percussive part elsewhere, as did cellist Anssi Kartunen & clarinettist Kari Krikku, all to equally little avail.

I would not make a special journey to revisit Kraft, as I would willingly for Stockhausen's Gruppen (1957) for three orchestras, a reference work for orchestral spatialism, which I have enjoyed immoderately at a Prom and in the Royal Festival Hall, and one showing far more genuine originality than Kraft.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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