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Magnus LINDBERG (b. 1958)
Al largo (2009/10) [24:53]
Cello Concerto No. 2 (2013) [20:58]
Era (2012) [20:19]
Anssi Karttunen (cello)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. Helsinki Music Centre, Finland, August 2015 (Era, Cello Concerto No.2), October 2015 (Al largo)
ONDINE ODE1281-5 SACD [66:28]

Lindberg composed several works when he was composer-in-residence to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. These included his second piano concerto, custom-made for Yefim Bronfman, and the extensive Al largo for large orchestra. The title of this fairly imposing work may be a bit ambiguous. While it might imply a piece moving mostly in slow tempo this turns out to be only partly true since the music often combines a sizzling, sparkling surface and an underlying slower pulse. The title, however, also bears another meaning: “far out at sea”. The composer explained that his friend and colleague Luca Francesconi suggested this title rather than the somewhat misleading “Largo”. As it stands, the music of Al largo is suggestive of marine landscapes and often moves in massive waves. Formally it falls into two halves which have some material in common. Most striking of all is the rousing opening fanfare that reappears in the course of the work. The music is quite lushly scored and clearly displays Lindberg's orchestral mastery to the full. The whole work is overtly symphonic in scope and manner. At times, too, the music pays homage to older composers. For example, at about 12 minutes in there is a short, veiled quotation from Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oye - or am I the only one to hear it? The second half ends calmly into nothingness after a brief quote from Schönberg's Verklärte Nacht. This is a superb and substantial work and it is good to have a second recording of it although there is not much to choose between this one and that of the first performance, available on DaCapo 8.226076. The main difference – to my mind – is the magnificent Ondine sound.
Lindberg's Cello Concerto No.2 was written to a commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic but under rather unusual circumstances in that the composer had to 'step in' because another composer had failed to deliver his own concerto on time. So, time being short, Lindberg turned to his Santa Fe Project (Konzertstück) composed in 2006 for cello and piano which has been recorded, again by Karttunen, on Ondine ODE1199-2. It is not too fanciful to describe the Second Cello Concerto as a rewritten and expanded version of that piece. The Concerto is in three movements played without a break with an extensive cadenza in the central movement. One of its most remarkable features is its neat and economical scoring. This allows the cello part to be clearly audible throughout even in the more animated episodes such as most of the third movement.
Era was commissioned by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam for its 125th anniversary in 2013, also the 125th anniversary of their celebrated concert hall. In this piece Lindberg “quite consciously set out to give a nod to the late Romantic masters and the modern classics of the early 20th century … naturally, these influences are modified and filtered through Lindberg's composer personality”: Kimmo Korhonen in his excellent and informative insert notes. Lindberg, however, mentions something that is more important, to my mind at least, in that he built the piece from a powerful underpinning in the bass register, rather like a Bourdon or at some moments even a Passacaglia. “I was thinking particularly of Sibelius' Fourth Symphony and the way the music evolves from the bass line, rising from low to high register.” There are many striking moments in this substantial work but I cannot really make out where the music is heading, something I find a bit curious since Lindberg's music is always clearly goal-oriented. This may sound lukewarm but, make no mistake, Era is another very fine work on its own right.

As already hinted at earlier in this review the performances are simply superb and the recording is truly magnificent. It sounds quite spectacular even when heard on a 'traditional' CD player as mine.
So, in short, yet another all-Lindberg release from Ondine that will certainly appeal strongly to long-time admirers of this composer's music as well as to those who may still need to be convinced that contemporary music can be accessible and hugely rewarding.
Hubert Culot



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