BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta*/Oliver Knussen
DG 463 184-2
Magnus Lindberg and I agree: "My favourite instrument is the orchestra".
We also came into the world in the same year (1958) but he arrived in Helsinki,
me in London.
Lindberg's is a distinctive voice in contemporary music. He has a huge
imagination for sound and the ability to conjure space. Aura, a concerto
for orchestra written in memory of Lutoslawski, is a big piece (37 minutes)
which contrasts and integrates the orchestra in the most commanding way.
Lindberg chooses unlikely combinations (trumpet against piano, high winds
against xylophone, scurrying strings with metal sheets in attendance) or
blends various instruments to form a consort invoking far-away panoramas.
Lindberg doesn't rely on sound only; harmony is equally important. Aura has
a structure (albeit one a little hazy) with defined points of arrival and
an ultimate destination (the final bars are a magical distillation of earlier
promise: to reach them one almighty, purging climax is required - a fantastic
sequence). Lindberg's language is approachable (melodic cells feed and develop
Aura's discourse) and there's plenty of surface activity with rapid contrasts
of colour. This is a really fine piece which is perhaps a tad too long -
I think Lindberg is slightly too occupied with Aura's display element (mini
cadenzas) and occasionally sidelines its symphonic aspirations, but Aura's
main argument is rarely abandoned. This is music with a wide appeal with
something to say and crosses boundaries saying it. Anyone who admires
Lutoslawski's Third or Fourth Symphonies will be on home-ground; there's
some Carter-like passages, affiliations to Colin Matthews, and the consonant
imagery (if not the language) of John Adams. I offer these composers purely
as a guide - Lindberg is his own man and has created a very distinctive catalogue
Engine (1996) isn't so welcoming. Its fifteen minutes of stuttering rhythms
and dissonant chords certainly compels attention. Perhaps Berio and Xenakis
come to mind but Lindberg has a softer edge (although his scoring can be
hard-edged) and some solos are quite playful and improvisatory. Again there
are plenty of contrasting timbres and the piece doesn't get stuck in a groove;
indeed it juggernauts and hesitates before stopping.
The performances are first-class of course. I did wonder about some of the
balances in Aura. I thought the percussion slightly too spotlit and wondered
if some filigree detail in the orchestra's lower spectrum was as cleanly
defined as it might be. This is a minuscule caveat concerning an important
release of first recordings. Another version of Aura would be very welcome
- I'm sure that Salonen, Saraste or Oramo would have a view on music that
is open to interpretation. Meanwhile this DG release is a winner.
(recording - Aura)
(recording - Engine)
and Peter Grahame Woolf adds
Short measure, you might think, but do not let that put you off! These are
two major works from magnus Lindberg (b.1958) the leading Finnish composer
who has had a long association with Oliver Knussen and has often been featured
in UK festivals.
Aura (1994) is a massive work for large orchestra in four movements played
without a break, composed in memory of Lutoslawski. It can be thought of
as a symphony - or not; the same issue as between Sibelius's Tapiola
and his No.7. It is characterised by tremendous energy and colour, with rich
sonorities and powerfully effective in the concert hall.
Engine, composed soon afterwards for the London Sinfonietta and premiered
at Aldeburgh in 1996, has its rules and constraints computer-generated, but
you'd never guess. Lindberg's studies at IRCAM have, he believes, led him
paradoxically to greater freedom because of the construction of those
I suspect I am far from alone in being totally unable to understand the
intellectual basis of this music, but it is a delight to hear and the bringing
back into Engine of counterpoint means that listening is not so different
from how one listens to more traditional music.
Lindberg orchestrates with a sure touch and Knussen is his ideal interpreter
and collaborator (see
review of Knussen conducting Lindberg at Finland's Avanti Festival in
Porvoo, July 2000). Both orchestras are on top form and there is no reason
do doubt that these are authoritative performances, though I have not seen
either score. Excellent recording in London, at the BBC's Maida Vale Studio
and at Henry Wood Hall.
Relax, enjoy and don't try to hard to understand what is going on. The surface
is sufficient; be re-invigorated.
Peter Grahame Woolf
Having heard this disc I feel compelled to add my two-penneth. Aura is
the finest contemporary piece I have heard for some time. No tunes of course,
but recognizable motifs that develop in an organic way to give the impression
of growth and foreward development - the music goes somewhere; it tells a
story - nothing sounds at all arbitrary. There is such diversity of
orchestral colour and the playing of the BBC symphony orchestra is staggering
- just how much rehearsal time do they get? I have to disagree with
Colin over the sound quality. I heard this on blushingly expensive high-end
equipment and the balance, realism and depth of sound was truly impressive-
not something I can always say about DG recordings. To give some indication
of what the music sounds like it reminded me very strongly of the music of
Rautavaara, particularly Angels and Visitations but without the repetitive
element of that work.