Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?  
Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Barry Forshaw
Classical CD Choice, February 2012

Magnus Lindberg is one of the most celebrated of living composers. Since 2009, he has been The New York Philharmonic’s Composer-in-Residence. This collection of works written between 1982–2005 is a representative (and striking) sampler of his compositional skill. © 2012 Classical CD Choice

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, July 2011

Make no mistake, Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg is a cutting-edge modernist nor has his blade been stropped smooth. It’s severing is achieved through ragged saw-teeth and violent conflict.

He attended classes given by Paavo Heininen at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy. Later he studied in Darmstadt with Ferneyhough and Lachenmann and with Donatoni at Siena and Grisey in Paris.

The works featured here have been riffled and reshuffled to present them broken from original couplings and sequenced early to late: 1982 to 2005.

Tendenza gives no quarter. Its upheaval and collisions are utterly committed. The shock-waves radiate outwards. Dissonance is the norm as is fragmentation and belligerence. Kraft is as obsidian-hard as Tendenza. It somehow embodies preferences for things that are fast and complicated. Its first of two segments ends in slowly turning scintillation. The second section quivers, squeaks and moans though ultimately rises to growling sharply accentuated aggression and a shriek of volleyed violence. Kinetics, written after a debilitating tropical illness forced silence on him for 18 months is more pointilliste than Kraft and Tendenza. Parts of it are redolent of Stravinsky’s Petrushka though the music also lashes out with a vengeful goad and in viscous dissonance.

Marea starts with violent upheaval and nightmare bass-accented attack. As with Tendenza Avanti! sounds every bit the full orchestra—not scaled down at all. On the other hand, as the movement progresses, there are more foot and hand holds for the less ‘advanced’ listener and the accelerating rush speaks directly if with more wildness than we may be used to. A sprinting piano adds decorative pearlescent streamers and there is some degree of repetition to acclimatise the ears and mind. In this sense the music is a little closer to Silvestrov symphonies 4 and 5.

Joy is the third panel of the trilogy of Kinetics, Marea and Joy. It is dissonant yet has a softer impact but is just as complex in texture—with pianos, electronics and vividly recorded percussion.

Corrente for chamber orchestra shivers with eldritch life and references Stravinsky time and again but filtered through Darmstadt’s disaffected alembic. Tragedy tolls out at the end. Corente II  is a rewrite of Corrente for full orchestra and is allowed much more space. There are some lyric insurgencies and plenty of generously rhythmic interest.

Coyote Blues is another chamber orchestra piece. This incorporates ululating material redolent of 1960s Hovhaness and Penderecki with baleful trombones and rolling and roiling waves of sound. A Petrushka-like delight is suddenly shaken free at 10:09.

Arena has an abundance of fine lines often seething in activity and rising to a high glowing voltage of shining writing for violins. This is closed off by a steady humming diminuendo.

Arena II is the original written but large rather like the Corrente pair but by no means as effective in its dénouement.

Feria is jewelled with little fanfare figures allocated to brass and woodwind as individuals.

Gran duo strips out the strings and percussion leaving us in a tension net between brass and woodwind. There are no lead soloists—not a concerto except that all these Lindberg works sound like Concertos for Orchestra. His title Concerto for Orchestra comes after Chorale—the shortest piece here and one written expressly as a companion to the Berg Violin Concerto. It makes frank play with Bach’s Es ist genug. The Concerto for Orchestra is a single movement piece of about half an hour duration. Its demeanour and fantastically mercurial nature brought home to me that all his orchestral pieces are display effusions, Darmstadt or otherwise.

The final and most recent work is Sculpture. Violins are elided. Instead we hear an orchestra of quadruple woodwind, two thrumming pianos, two harps, organ, two Wagner tubas and full brass complement. Again this is a spectacular written to complement the vast space of the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. A touch of ancient Rome aside, this is very much another virtuoso race-course as well as reminiscent of Penderecki and Sibelius at his most the most enigmatic and his most heroic and most catastrophic. It operates as a sort of dissonant Pohjola’s Daughter. This is a vast lapidary gauze in motion cut across with gritty rhythmic attack as at 18:11. Parts of this look towards the grand tone poems of David Mathews. The sunburst at 1830 onwards is redolent of the sunrise in Night-Ride and Sunrise complete with an extravagantly chattering organ. It’s a mite garrulous but full of delights in the manner of Silvestrov’s psychedelia. It ends on an almost Baxian glow; so very different from the Tendenza of two decades before.

There’s a good English and Finnish booklet by Kimmi Korhonen which tells you what you want to know at about the right pace and length.

Avant-garde origins never quite let go—why should they—but brilliance, fantastic imaginative orchestra textures and Stravinskian mulch all add to the draw of this music.

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, July 2011

Reissues of orchestral works by Magnus Lindberg, who is given a deluxe retrospective at the relatively young age of 53. This collection contains works dating from 1982 to 2005, tracing a path from his early extremist modernism (his teachers included Helmut Lachenmann, Brian Ferneyhough, Vinko Globokar, and, perhaps most critically as his career progressed, spectralist Gerard Grisey) to his more recent, and notably more palatable, efforts. Maestro Salonen asserts on the jewelbox that Lindberg has created “a distinct, personal, approachable language…in the spirit of Strauss, Ravel, and Stravinsky”. I will return to this comment below following a necessarily brief survey of this set’s contents.

Tendenza (1982) is a 12-minute piece of electric action-painting splatter for chamber orchestra, with an actual held but jittery single pitch threatening stability at its climax. This at the time surprising pass at the tonal will become an important factor as his career unfolds. Kraft (1985, reviewed N/D 2004, coupled with his Piano Concerto) is scored for the Toimii Ensemble (a mostly percussion group) and huge orchestra supplemented by a variety of junk percussion, electric drums (he was influenced by German punk rock at the time), and a nutty episode of vocal blabberings by the players. I said all I had to say about the piece in my earlier review. Kinetics (1989), the first of three works written after the composer was sidelined for a year and a half by a severe tropical disease contracted on a vacation, is notably influenced by Grisey’s spectralism. It is more lush than its predecessors, and certainly more French, but it retains the sense of hysterical delirium typical of the young composer. Marea (1990) refers to the tide, Lindberg completing the work off the coast of Normandy. It is more of the same, but for chamber orchestra.

Joy (1990) is the third piece of the post-disease trilogy. More consonant than the earlier pieces, this nearly half-hour work is positively sumptuous harmonically, with its rich chords and vibraphones suggesting jazz influence. There is an electronic presence in the piece as well, involving rather tinny synthesizerprocessed grand piano sounds. It seems long to me. Corrente (1992), its title referring more to “current” (in the sense of “flow”) than to the baroque dance (though there is a tonal reference here and there), juxtaposes floating ostinato fragments in its drifting spectralist mix, leading to an active and exciting climax. Corrente II is an expanded arrangement for large orchestra produced the same year. Coyote Blues (1993), for chamber orchestra, opens with some instrumental coyote howls (it was originally supposed to be a vocal piece), and that bluesy gesture offers the main idea for the piece. The work has a lighter touch than most of the music collected here.

Arena (1995) is based on a major-minor third motive. It has as a result a jazz tinge at its core, blended with Lindberg’s typical jittery flow. This piece is more concentrated and less sprawling than many of the earlier pieces owing to its easily recognizable generating subject. It was commissioned for a conductors’ competition at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy. Arena 2 (1996) is an arrangement of it for chamber orchestra. Feria (1997) (“celebration” in Spanish) bases its activity on its opening fanfare, which undergoes constant transformation (the notes use the term “processing”) over the course of its generally breathless 17 minutes. The brief contrasting central section turns out to be an allusion to Monteverdi’s madrigal Lasciatemi Morire, though we are carefully reminded it is not meant to be a quotation in the “postmodern” sense.

The 21st Century is ushered in with Gran Duo (2000), a wind ensemble piece (the “duo” referring to the orchestra’s wind and brass sections). It seems that Lindberg is uncomfortable without the strings and percussion, since this is his most tentative writing in the set. Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments is an obvious reference point. I commented on the piece in a bit more detail in March/April 2006. I didn’t like it then, either, but it was released there with Lindberg’s splendid Clarinet Concerto, which is possibly his best piece to date (too bad it’s not included in this set).

Chorale (2002) is a dense setting of Es ist Genug designed to be paired with the Berg Concerto (see also M/A 2006). It is followed here by his Concerto for Orchestra (2003; M/A 2009), a substantial work in five sections, a dense expository unit, a slow movement, a section of chamber music, a fast movement standing in for a scherzo, and a dramatic (nearly melodramatic) finale. All of Lindberg’s orchestral works could just as easily be called Concertos for Orchestra given their expert orchestration and virtuoso demands, so for all intents and purposes this could also be called a “Symphony”, since that is what is approximated by its structure. In any case, the piece is colorful and absorbing, though it remains to be seen whether or not it becomes anything close to a repertoire item (I have my doubts). Finally, Sculpture (2005; M/A 2009), written for Salonen’s Los Angeles Philharmonic and its Walt Disney Hall, is similar in overall structure to the Concerto for Orchestra in that it also has plenty of fanfares to commemorate a hall’s opening (see also Feria). Its general ambience is audience-friendly, right down to the gentle concluding tonal cadence.

Lindberg has now attained superstar status in this country owing to his 2009 appointment as composer-in-residence for the New York Philharmonic, which likely generated this attractive release. Returning to Salonen’s comments, Lindberg, like Strauss, is an outstanding orchestrator, but unlike Strauss Lindberg won’t or can’t write a memorable tune—which is so important to the great vocal composer Strauss (Lindberg does not like writing for the voice, and it shows). Grisey’s influence gives Lindberg’s music a deeply sensual French harmonic sheen, which I suppose links him to Ravel (also a great orchestrator), though Ravel’s refined classical sensibility is notably lacking. Stravinsky is most evident when Lindberg stops “floating” and settles in on driving rhythms, which happens only too rarely. His influence in the relatively weak Gran Duo has already been mentioned.

One thing all those composers have in common is that undefinable thing called “character”, which makes their “greatness” clearly identifiable. Although Lindberg’s music does have a clear “Scandinavian” character, it lacks that “arresting” element that captivates the attention and makes you want to return to the work again and again. “Approachable” or not, this is extremely dense, unrelievedly demanding music that will likely have a healthy future in academia, but I wonder how the picky Philharmonic audiences (and players) will take to it over time. Granted, readers are not required to devote 4-1/2 hours to it as I had to for the last couple of weeks, but it can become trying in large doses. Given the composer’s newfound stature, though, I do highly recommend making up your own mind, and this set, with its magnificent sonics and outstanding performances, is as good a place to start as any.

Mark Sealey
Classical Net, June 2011

The 15 pieces in this collection of music by Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg, who was born in 1958, range in length from Chorale’s six minutes to Kraft’s 30; and from Tendenza’s year of composition, 1982, to Sculpture’s, 2005. The pieces are actually presented across these four CDs in chronological order. They represent an aggregation of recordings by soloist, four orchestras and ensembles under three conductors; they were previously released by Ondine in 1992, 1997, 1998, 2004 and 2005. One purpose of this issue is to illustrate the way in which Lindberg’s composing career has evolved: “…every work contains something completely new but also something from the previous work…rldquo; [from an interview Lindberg gave in 1995].

So there must be two criteria by which we should judge the success of such a collection: How well does it reflect Lindberg’s development? How good are the performances? Currently composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic, Lindberg studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under Rautavaara and Paavo Heininen; he also attended summer courses with Franco Donatoni, Lachenmann and Ferneyhough then studied privately with Vinko Globokar and Gérard Grisey. A pianist, Lindberg founded Toimii (“It Worksrldquo; in Finnish) in 1980 and plays with the ensemble. At around the same time, he started the informal Ears Open Society.

Kraft was one of Lindberg’s first compositions, dating from the early 1980s; and is his largest to date with multiple harmonies and an orchestra extending to scrap metal percussion and the spoken word. There seemed a real danger that Lindberg had thrown so much into Kraft that he had “written himself outrldquo;. Here it’s performed with vigor, sensitivity and a real awareness of its monumental status. The variety of instrumental color and layers of texture are given no more nor less prominence than the shifting forward movement by groups of instruments apparently in search of themes. Yet the players never take such searching literally; they remain in control. One is struck by the contrast which Kraft’s force (as you would expect from such a name) employs at all times when compared with the more reticent, yet equally assured style of Tendenza. But the integrity of the Avanti Chamber Orchestra and Oramo in the latter is as great as of Toimii Ensemble and Salonen as they work undistracted though Kraft.

But the trilogy, Kinetics, Marea, Joy, saw him build on the technique of repeated chords and refining a chaconne-like style in Corrente and Corrente II by the end of the decade. The sweeps and sustained chords of both Kinetics and Marea are amply handled by Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra with Saraste and the Avanti Chamber Orchestra with Oramo again. Although the scoring is lighter, neither group of players falls for the temptation of conveying anything less than the full impact of both pieces; and their lyrical subtlety is in evidence from first to last. There’s a danger that in works scored in this way—with layers or sound and less horizontal development at times than vertical—the dynamic will be lost because orchestral players and sections may be determined first and foremost to convey the sound and not the subtleties of the musical line. One only has to attend to the crescendi and diminuendi in the middle sections of Marea [CD.1 tr 5] to see how this danger has been avoided. For all that piece is indeed about the ebb and flow of the tide, the players of the Avanti Chamber Orchestra—in common with their colleagues in the other three orchestras—maintain tension until the last note.

Aura (1994) is not included on these CDs but pointed the way to a new development, a new kind of tonality which is also to be heard in the Clarinet Concerto (2002), and of which the only recording available now is also on Ondine (1038) with Kari Kriikku and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo.

Other major works by the composer (not all orchestral) which are not included on this set are Graffiti and Seht die Sonne (Ondine ODE1157), the Violin Concerto (Sony 712936), the Cello Concerto, Cantigas, Parada and Fresco (Sony 89810) and the piano music (Naxos 8.570542). So, since the totality of Lindberg’s published works exceeds 60 in number, the present set contains numerically less than a quarter of them all. But at less than $8 for each of the four CDs it still represents an amazing bargain and should be snapped up by anyone who’s exploring Lindberg for the first time; who maybe has some of these recordings but not others; and for that matter by anyone interested in new music at all: Lindberg’s is an important, original and pleasing voice.

To listen through these works is to be struck by Lindberg’s gradual move towards the sonorous (albeit still complex; perhaps still extreme), the sensual almost—from the more incisive. But also to be struck by a sonic profusion and richness rather than anything simple, single-threaded. You’re also likely to come away marveling at Lindberg’s amazing prowess in controlling both the orchestra as an instrument and his command of the characteristics of each of the instruments in the orchestra. Even though he has tempered any affect of the “angry young manrldquo; with which he burst onto the scene in the late 1970’s Lindberg remains fascinated by the modern, the new, the exciting, the fast even; he is quoted as saying, “I am a child of the times, and I like fast and complicated thingsrldquo;.

But the story is a little more subtle than this: indeed, the notes that come in the booklet with these CDs are written in such a way as to suggest more nuanced phases in Lindberg’s musical development. To be sure, Tendenza and Kraft emphasize the energy of rhythm and sonority with harmony; melody is effectively absent. And it’s undeniable that Kinetics, Marea and Joy privilege harmony over rhythm. But there are quiet moments (reflective moments indeed) in Kraft and implied softnesses, and certainly a marked consonance, in Joy. This is more than illustrative of Lindberg’s pairing of the new with the previous. It indicates a thoughtfulness and subtlety of approach that’s well reflected in the orchestral playing on these CDs. Tempi, for example, must vary—and be shown to vary—in such sparer works as Joy [CD.2 tr.1].

By the 1990s Arena, Coyote Blues, Arena 2, Feria were showing a less frenetic form of musical organization still. Individual motifs began to emerge at the expense of pure sonority. And the motifs were at times melodic! And so they are made to sound with great effect by Oramo and the Avanti Chamber Orchestra here. This piece, and indeed Corrente, Arena 2 and Coyote Blues on the second CD, are played (again by the Avanti Chamber Orchestra with Oramo) with a delicacy that attests to the players’ complete confidence in the idiom. You can almost hear them squeezing from each score as much filigree and intricacy as Lindberg put into it. And in doing so, in trusting to their sense of familiarity with the various twists and turns each piece makes, they present their angularity and discrimination of tone, timbre and texture without the spurious surprise that mere experimentation let run wild relies on. While Corrente II, played by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra but under Saraste again is heard to be every bit as refined. It has to be noted that there is a constant exchange of conductors as you work your way through the pieces on the four CDs. But this is never either distracting or inconsistent.

The third CD also contains Arena, Arena 2, Feria and Gran Duo all played by Saraste and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Each seems to be more melodic, have more discernible paths along which the listener travels aware of a leading line, than the previous. Again, the orchestra pulls no textural or timbral punches, each section of each piece being given its head and allowed to make full impact. But Saraste is also just as aware of the structure of the music such that the journey we’re implicitly taken on is a meaningful one. Feria even has quotes (or sometimes barely recognizable motifs) from familiar works by other composers; these lend the piece an immediacy, which the orchestra balances with its impact and forceful forging of line and structure. Gran Duo is performed with a similar degree of vigor, energy and penetration. But there’s a clarity in the (orchestra’s) sections and the way they relate to one another which—together with the clean recording—mean that this liveliness does not run away with itself. It’s a more “jazzyrldquo; piece with lots of brass; but the performers never sacrifice accuracy and detail to “aurarldquo;.

The last CD has Chorale, Concerto for Orchestra and Sculpture with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Saraste again. Again, they play with a dignity and sense of the grand in such a way that Lindberg’s conceptions are credited with weight, purpose and a certain enduring quality; as well as excitement, novelty and an almost jittery self-confidence on the composer's part at what he’s doing, and where he’s moving. Both Chorale and Concerto for Orchestra are large-scale works with true centers of tonal gravity. Slow and deliberate in developmental terms, the Orchestra knows how to extract every drop of meaning and originality at each turn. The latter work is one of the longest works in this collection; it’s played here with such insight that it also turns out to be one of the most satisfying. Like a landscape with both vistas and sweep as well as interesting features, nooks and places in which to secrete oneself, the Concerto for Orchestra loses neither focus nor genuine intrigue for a moment. Similarly, Sculpture hints at things to come with an even more clearly defined acknowledgement of the role tonality might play in Lindberg’s music, some more oblique quotations, and the composer’s signature deft originality with orchestral color. It’s a happy way to end your exploration of Lindberg’s orchestral œuvre.

The audio quality of all four CDs is first class; engineered to reveal the music and not the sound, the acoustics are all superb, though they’re those of different locations. Neither this nor the order, styles of conducting nor the scale of players should offer any doubt about the integrity and desirability of this set. As said, it represents a great bargain financially, offers a better than merely serviceable collection of Lindberg’s orchestra works, is well-supported by a nicely-written booklet giving background and context; though with a rather odd photograph of Lindberg’s face… perhaps he’s concentrating. Recommended.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group