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Magnus LINDBERG (b. 1958)
Aura – In memoriam Witold Lutosławski (1993-94) [38:33]
Related Rocks for Two Pianos, Two Percussionists and Electronics (1997) [16:15]
Marea (1989-90) [11:52]
Emil Holmström, Joonas Ahonen (piano and keyboards); Jani Niinimäki, Jerry Piipponen (percussion)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. live, October 2019 and November 2020, Helsinki Music Centre, Helsinki
ONDINE ODE1384-2 [66:40]

The Finnish Magnus Lindberg is one of the most exciting composers currently at work. I try to hear each new work of his as it comes out and I buy (or receive for review) nearly all his recordings. Quite simply, his music sounds marvellous. There is a glittering surface, which can be compared to those of Mozart or Berlioz, eventful writing for strings and woodwind, powerful brass harmonies, a sense of mystery and, above all, an onward momentum which I find irresistible. When my colleague Leslie Wright, writing of this disc, says that Lindberg’s music ‘is in no way easy listening,’ he is right that this is not music you can put on in the background while you concentrate on something else, but if you do concentrate on the music it is not difficult to listen to.

All three works here are receiving their second recordings. It is a very good sign when a contemporary work gets taken up in this way, as it is the start of its joining the regular repertory. Aura is the longest work here and is one of the longest works Lindberg has composed. It is in four movements, played without a break. The first movement is complex and dramatic, the second a slow movement, the third a scherzo and the fourth a finale which leads to a huge climax. This sounds like a symphony, but Lindberg shies away from the term, saying emphatically that it is not a symphony. Well, he can say so, but if anyone were to call it a symphony when the composer was not around, I don’t think there would be many to object. It is the culminating work of what we might call Lindberg’s second period as the aggressively dissonant and modernist Kraft was of his first. It is written for a normal size orchestra with triple woodwind, though adding a bass trumpet and three percussionists and a piano, doubling celesta. The work as a whole displays all the qualities I listed above, but I should note that the slow movement features a chorale and the percussion, piano and harp contribute a gamelan sound, obviously learned from Messiaen.

Related Rocks for two pianos and percussion is a kind of companion to Bartók’s Sonata for the same resources, except that Lindberg requires the pianists to double on electronic keyboards and calls for a good deal more percussion than did Bartók, in particular more mallet instruments which combine to form, again, a gamelan. The piece is rhythmically intricate and exciting and even jazzy towards the end.

Marea, the shortest work here, was written as the middle part of a loose trilogy, of which the first and third parts were Kinetics and Joy. These were actually the first works of Lindberg I heard and which immediately persuaded me of the power, beauty and interest of his work. Marea means tide, and the work is actually a sea picture, a worthy successor to Debussy’s La Mer and Bridge’s The Sea. It is written for a sinfonietta-sized orchestra (duple woodwind, reduced brass) and is quite short but it does not sound like a small work. Structurally it is a set of variations built on a chaconne, but this is not immediately apparent and there is no obvious repetition. It is a powerful work.

I mentioned that these were all second recordings and it is worthwhile considering why Ondine, which has already done a great deal for Lindberg, should choose to make them, when there is still some Lindberg as yet unrecorded. Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which he has been chief conductor for a number of years, have a good track record with the composer. This is the fourth disc of his music they have made together, and the orchestra has made as many again with other conductors. They are thoroughly inside this music in a way in which, with the best will in the world, Knussen and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on DG were not, in their first recording of Aura twenty years ago, good though that is (review). That version is also now only available as a download. Related Rocks was recorded by the French team for which it was written on a rather short measure disc (Megadisc MDC7835), which also contains Lindberg’s clarinet quintet and which is now out of print. So, this disc restores these two works to the CD catalogue and specifically to that of Ondine. I wonder whether they are considering a complete Lindberg edition. It would be a good thing if that were so.

The case of Marea is rather different, since it is already on an Ondine disc with its two companions of the trilogy, conducted by Juka-Pekka Saraste. It is not clear why it was remade, except that, again, Lintu and the orchestra’s greater experience with the composer comes through.

The recording is excellent, and, though these are all live recordings, there is no sign of an audience apart from the fact that the end of Marea is cut off rather abruptly, presumably to cut out applause. This can be strongly recommended both to old hands and to newcomers to the composer. I hope that, despite his being due to step down as chief conductor of the FRSO this year, that Lintu continues to record Lindberg with them.

Stephen Barber
Previous review: Leslie Wright

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