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Magnus LINDBERG (b. 1958)
Tempus fugit (2016-7) [33:16]
Violin Concerto No. 2 (2015) [24:57]
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. 2017 at Helsinki Music Centre
ONDINE ODE1308-5 SACD [58:27]

Magnus Lindberg is one of my favourite living composers, simply because his music sounds so marvellous. Ever since I heard the trilogy Kinetics, Marea, Joy (review), I have been caught and held by his sound world. There is always a glittering surface with plenty going on, often fast tempi, trumpet fanfares, splendid writing for the strings and wind and wonderful mysterious harmonies. I have eagerly bought every disc of his music which has come out and have yet to be disappointed. His musical forbears include Lutosławski, Ravel, and I fancy I hear some influence from the texture of Scriabin’s Prometheus. Others clearly share my enthusiasm as he has become the go-to composer for orchestras needing a new work for a special occasion. Although he has been recorded by several companies, he is lucky, being Finnish, to have the regular support of that splendid company Ondine, which has just issued two of his most recent works.

The earlier of the two, though the second on the disc, is his second violin concerto. Lindberg has been relatively abstemious in his production of concertos. He noted that in the later twentieth century composers tended to write one concerto only for a particular instrument, but that, earlier on, composers such as Bartók and Prokofiev “were happy to return and come up with new solutions for the same instrument”. He himself said he was “not interested in ending up having to write concertos for exotica such as theremin”, surely thinking here of his older compatriot Kalevi Aho, who has written nearly thirty concertos, including one for theremin. Lindberg himself had previously written two concertos each for piano and cello and one for clarinet, with many years separating the two for the same instrument. The same applies to this violin concerto, which comes ten years after the first one (reviewed here).

It is in three movements, with a cadenza at the end of the second. Unlike the first, which was written for a Mozart-size orchestra, this one is for full symphony orchestra. It is, in fact, a romantic, as opposed to a classical concerto. It opens with double stops on the violin, which introduce a five-note motif which is the basis for development and which pervades the whole work. The movement is closely argued and ends with a big romantic melody. The second movement is technically slow, since the harmony changes slowly, but the solo part is quite frisky with some stratospheric writing. The finale is almost a moto perpetuo for the soloist over more sustained writing for the orchestra. The five-note motif is transformed into a monumental statement but then moves through some impressive harmonies to a questioning end. It is a rich and rewarding work.

Tempus fugit, which follows the concerto in date but precedes it on the disc, is a symphonic poem in five sections. A less modernistic composer might have called it a symphony. It was commissioned for the centenary of Finland’s independence and Lindberg gave himself fourteen months to write it. He did a lot of work exploring complex chords and the ideas behind the work relate to chord progressions. However, the listener will not be particularly aware of this, but will notice the variety across the five movements. There is a shimmering opening, a characteristic feature of Lindberg, fanfare-like passages on the brass and glittering writing for the woodwind. The second movement is gentle and clear. The third is darker, with a maelstrom of heaving passages, with occasionally flotsam being thrown up in the form of tinkling passages high in the piano or flute. The fourth movement is a real slow movement, but the melody struggles to be heard through faster elements. The finale proceeds in a succession of waves and ends with a grand climax which Lindberg has compared to the Great Gate of Kiev in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Although not especially long, this is a really big piece and it merits exploration.

The soloist in the concerto is Frank Peter Zimmermann, whom I know best from his splendid recording of the two Szymanowski concertos, with which this of Lindberg has some affinity. He gave the premiere and has since played the work several times, with different orchestras. Here he gives a commanding and very beautiful performance. The excellent Finnish Radio Symphony orchestra have a track record in recordings of Lindberg under various conductors, including one previous one under Lintu (review). I happened to have heard them together earlier in this year in Bartók’s two violin concertos, and they are no less assured here in Lindberg’s concerto and Tempus fugit.

The recording, which I heard in two-channel stereo, is up to Ondine’s usual high standards, with the violin balanced slightly forwards in the concerto, though Lindberg has balanced the work carefully. The sleeve notes are helpful and altogether this is a stylish production.

Stephen Barber

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