> LINDBERG Mandrake in the corner [CT]: Classical CD Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Christian LINDBERG (b.1958)
Mandrake in the Corner (1998-2000)
Axel JØRGENSEN (1881-1947)

Suite for Trombone and Orchestra (1926)
Egil HOVLAND (b.1924)

Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra Op.76 (1972)
Jan SANDSTRÖM (b.1954)

Cantos de la Mancha for trombone and orchestra (1994-95)
Christian Lindberg – trombone
Singapore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lan Shui
Recorded at Victoria Concert Hall, Singapore, March 2000 DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1128 [63:34]


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Last year I reviewed a BIS release of works primarily for trombone ensemble that included Christian Lindberg’s own "concerto", Mandrake in the Corner. Here, the same recording with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra resurfaces, this time packaged in the more likely context of three other concertos in all but name, by Scandinavian composers ranging from the little known Dane Axel Jørgensen to Jan Sandström, a close friend of Lindberg with whom he has enjoyed a particularly fruitful relationship.

Mandrake in the Corner is only Lindberg’s second serious attempt at composition. His first piece Arabienne, being included on the aforementioned earlier BIS release. The title Mandrake in the Corner, taken from a comic book figure, Mandrake the Magician, came only after composition was well advanced, springing from what I described in my previous review as the "action adventure film" character of the music and what the composer himself thinks of, perhaps rather modestly, as a reminder of a "second rate TV thriller". It certainly has a somewhat garish feel to it, rhythmically dramatic in the first movement and slightly sleazy in the central section of the second, conjuring images of dubious, smoke filled bars in American gangster films. The final Vivace is a manic, hell for leather dash for the finishing post with just the one brief point of repose, revisiting material from the opening movement, before the driving concluding bars.

In his booklet notes on the piece Christian Lindberg tells of his indignation at a critic’s dressing down of Axel Jørgensen’s Suite for Trombone and Orchestra after he first played the work at a public concert. Jørgensen’s amateur status as a composer (he spent most of his career as an orchestral musician) was such that his music was little heard even in his own lifetime although this suite, whilst melodically unmemorable, is not without its moments of interest. Overall though I was left with a feeling similar to that of having listened to one of the legion of British brass band works written in the 1920s and onwards, by composers whose names have long since been forgotten. Namely, unexcited and underwhelmed.

In contrast, Egil Hovland is a composer I would like to hear more of. Written in the early 70s after his music had undergone a period of experimentation, his Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra is a highly virtuosic, stamina-sapping showpiece that even by today’s standards is still a work of daunting technical difficulty. Born in Oslo in 1924, Hovland studied with Vagn Holmboe, Copland and Dallapiccola and has not been without significant success, his Music for Ten Instruments winning the Koussevitsky prize in 1957. The Trombone Concerto has a bracing Nordic spirit about it although, if anything, the opening of the first movement strikes me as being closer to Shostakovich than anything else. As you would expect, Lindberg takes the technical demands of the work in his stride (try the first movement cadenza from around 6’30" for both lyrical control and clarity of articulation) although in many ways it is the hauntingly nocturnal central slow movement that I found most affecting.

Not for the first time, Jan Sandström has here created a condensed version of his Trombone Concerto No. 2, "Don Quixote" in Cantos de la Mancha, having carried out a similar exercise with his earlier "Motorbike Concerto" into the eight minute A Short Ride on a Motorbike (both of the full works are available on another BIS disc, BIS-CD-828). In terms of sheer inventiveness of imagination Cantos de la Mancha stands apart from every other work on the disc. Combining a multitude of effects, extended technical feats and vocal exclamations, the work is broken down into five relatively brief movements, four of which take as their starting points episodes from Quixote’s colourful exploits with the subtitles "To walk where the bold man makes a halt", "To row against a rushing stream", "To believe in an insane dream" and "To smile despite unbearable pain". From the opening fanfare and nonsensical vocal expostulations of the introduction the movements progress through playful rhythmic irregularity, glowing serenity and Messiaenic like outbursts to the anguished calm of the closing paragraphs as Sancho Panza witnesses his master, beaten and bloody on the ground. Lindberg responds to this tour de force of virtuosity with playing of stunning facility, not to mention theatrical showmanship and as a result it is the works by Sandström and Hovland that make this disc truly worthwhile.

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra under the guidance of Lan Shui provide competent accompaniment and as can be relied upon from BIS, the recordings are both dynamic and realistic.

Christopher Thomas.

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