Magnus LINDBERG (b. 1958)
GRAFFITI (2009)a [31:32]
Seht die Sonne (2007) [25:40]
Helsinki Chamber Choira; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
rec. House of Culture, Helsinki 4-5 September 2008, Finlandia Hall, Helsinki 23 May 2009a
ONDINE ODE 1157-2 [57:12]

GRAFFITI is Lindberg’s first work for chorus and orchestra. As the title makes clear, this is a setting of ancient Roman graffiti discovered on the walls of Pompeii. These fragments deal with all sorts of things such as insults, slogans, advertisements and even what looks like a shopping list of some sort. Sex, too, is not absent, be it often in rather crude words. These fragments as compiled and arranged by the composer do not suggest any real narrative. The somewhat random order of these fragments rather suggests the vision of a visitor going around Pompeii’s ruins and having a look at these graffiti in passing. This may be the strength of the work because it leaves the composer free hand to handle and develop his material. It may also be its relative weakness because the absence of true narrative excludes any sense of logic; but were these graffiti logical? The music is generally simpler than in other works by Lindberg. It tends towards achieving archaic character by having recourse to modal writing often clashing with more chromatic orchestral passages. The music also evokes composers whom one might not have associated with Lindberg: Rózsa and Orff. However, GRAFFITI is a colourful, superbly crafted and eminently accessible musical fresco in its own right. One might now be interested to hear what Lindberg would do while setting a more cogently constructed text.

Composed to a commission from the Berlin Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Seht die Sonne was premiered under Simon Rattle in Berlin in 2007. “Seht die Sonne” are the first words sung in the last part of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder; but Lindberg’s music neither alludes to nor quotes from Schoenberg’s work. Seht die Sonne is a purely abstract piece of music exploring a number of moods on a grand scale. Unlike GRAFFITI, however, Seht die Sonne is a much more integrated piece of symphonic writing. Much of the music is derived from a motif played by the horns at the opening of the first section. This does not exclude a huge range of contrast throughout the work and the music alternates massive episodes with others of almost chamber-like transparency. The most striking of the latter being the cello’s cadenza at the end of the second movement leading straight into the final movement. This opens in a lively manner, builds up to a final climax and ends with a beautiful coda sounding as an appeased farewell. “If the opening horn signal could be regarded as harking back to the opening of the Fifth Symphony of Sibelius, the conclusion is much closer to the sphere of his Sixth”. I cannot but agree with these words by Kimmo Korhonen printed in the insert notes. This beautifully crafted and often imposing work is on a par with some of Lindberg’s finest achievements such as Aura – the latter a masterpiece.

Performances and recordings are just superb and up to Ondine’s best standards. Oramo conducts vital readings of both scores and the Helsinki Chamber Choir sing with evident relish. All in all, this is another fine release although I will again complain over the rather short playing time. Fans of Lindberg will know what to expect although GRAFFITI may come as a slight surprise, others might investigate this release because Lindberg’s music is of its time while remaining accessible.

Hubert Culot