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Grant Chu Covell
La Folia, February 2011

…bright and curvy Seht die Sonne is diurnal. Lindberg’s title alludes to Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder wherein his title’s words appear. This music comes a long way from older Lindberg — the composer himself characterizes his transition from angular modernism to a cooler style as “the difference between cutting stone and shaping clay.”

Latin text plus rhythm lead my ear to Orff, which in the case of Graffiti is unfair. Lindberg assembled scribbles found at Pompeii, setting random advertisements, slurs and paeans for chorus and orchestra. Generally gentler than earlier Lindberg, the rare dissonance and the unexpected insistent unison towards the end, perhaps suggesting Vesuvius extinguishing the port city, emerge as the more dramatic.

Some Modest Proposals, December 2010

Ancient Roman graffiti set to music? If anybody can pull it off, Lindberg can. Lindberg weaves some lean but extremely colorful orchestral writing around a rather eclectic vocal style that has some echoes of Britten and, more obviously, Orff. It is brilliant at every turn, as are the performances.

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, July 2010

I really liked the old, edgy, bad-boy Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg. Kraft, his first large-scale orchestral score, is monumental in a way that has become characteristic, but it is also haunting and angry, with little ambiguity about its connection with the listener. It was the culmination of several years of experimentation in an atonal style, soon thereafter abandoned. Lindberg began working, in the early 1990s, with a more tonal language. In newer works, continuous harmonic development provides the structure, and surface activity rises from and sinks into an often darkly massive core sonority. Within the ebb and flow of these usually long-breathed works, the traditional tools of classical construction are used, but the rules for their use seem changed: Chord progressions don’t necessarily lead to a climax, harmonic tension may not so much be resolved as dissipated, contrasts in tempo and textural complexity may not necessarily illuminate a structure. This is music of great virtuosity, impressive and even awe-inspiring, but emotionally I miss the immediacy of the earlier works.

Graffiti, a setting of Latin texts found inscribed on the walls of Pompeii, is the composer’s first large-scale choral work. Allowing these dead voices to speak again would seem the perfect way to combine virtuosity with emotional intensity. In fact, one might fear sentimentality with some composers. Lindberg is no sentimentalist, though, and his text choices, ranging from a snippet of Virgil, to political pronouncements, to banal statements of existential angst, to notices about public games and crucifixions, to raw sexual references, mitigates against any romanticization. The problem, to the extent that there is one, goes to the other extreme. Beautifully written, of course, it is full of color and event. It is one of the composer’s most accessible scores, even seeming to paint film score-like vistas of Roman glory in the opening section. It is, however, difficult to be sure of the point being made. This may be purposeful; Lindberg states that while inscriptions are grouped loosely by topic, they do not form a narrative. He also claims that the music flowed out of the inscriptions; a “dynamic dialogue between text and music,” suggesting some emotional engagement, but the music does not always obviously support—or even at times even render audible—the words being sung. Pieces of ephemera are overwhelmed by music of disproportionate intensity and weight. Others are lost in rapid repetitions. An inscription with a particular poignancy—“I am amazed, wall, that you haven’t fallen into ruins. You hold up so many writers’ burdens”—is effectively set, but “You are dead, you are nothing” hardly registers the first time it is sung. Lewdness like, “I f—d here twice” and “Myrtis you give good h—d,” stands out with special solo treatment, and some of the most touching choral writing is given to a list of market days, while the textual climax, an extended verse beginning “Nothing can last forever,” gets lost in a muddle of counterpoint. The musical climax; a percussion and brass peroration and a return to the opening theme—hard, despite the composer’s denials, not to associate with the eruption—leads to a reprise of the apostrophe to the wall as the music fades away; a striking and evocative ending to an attractive but oddly unaffecting work.

Seht die Sonne takes its title from the glorious final chorus of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. It is another of Lindberg’s huge canvases and, in terms of harmonic complexity, seems almost an extension of this most indulgent of Schoenberg’s works. I must admit to a fleeting evil thought that Lindberg’s score is an example of why Schoenberg turned his back on late-Romantic chromaticism and found refuge in the relative austerity of the tone row. It is in many ways a very impressive score, awesome even in its mastery of sonority and organic construction, but I again find myself unmoved. The work does not seem to relate thematically to the chorus. It does not capture the ecstasy of that hymn to the sun. There is much to admire in some lovely events, but, at least without a score, the structure is indecipherable. There is a beautiful section for winds near the end of first movement that leads into a stunning rhapsodic string statement, but there is no apparent connection between these and what follows. There is a fascinating cello cadenza—why cello, why here?—and an ending that fades out most touchingly. The claimed connection to Sibelius’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies eludes me. The organic compositional technique of Holmboe, also cited as an influence, is more obvious. However, the effect is very different, and if I prefer Holmboe, even at his most abstract, it is because he is master of a grace that Lindholm rarely achieves or, in fairness, attempts.

I have taken almost twice my allotted words to explain my admiration for and ambivalence toward the new Lindberg. My response certainly does not result from any lack of conviction in the performers involved. Sakari Oramo and his superb Helsinki ensemble are magnificent advocates. The recording easily reveals the detail in the densest of textures and places moments of delicacy in a believable space. I have enjoyed the opportunity to hear these works more than the foregoing suggests. By way of recommendation: This release is an excellent place to determine how you will respond to this important composer. And try some of the earlier stuff while you are at it.

David Hurwitz, June 2010

Graffiti (2009) is Magnus Lindberg’s first major choral work, indeed one of his few ventures in vocal writing, and it’s wonderful. Lasting about half an hour, the text consists of advertisements, scribbling, and the usual scatological commentary found on your typical city walls, only here the language is Latin, and the walls belonged to Pompeii before its annihilation in an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The best way to enjoy the piece is to read the text first (helpfully printed with English translations in the booklet), then simply listen as the music evokes the variegated moods and activities of an ancient city literally dancing on the edge of destruction.

Stylistically, Graffiti is one of Lindberg’s most tonally oriented pieces, not just because he uses modal harmony to give the music a certain primal, even barbaric splendor, but also (I like to hope) because he has realized that more than 30 minutes of continuous music benefits from having strong tonal underpinnings. And even the most virtuosic singers (the Helsinki Chamber Choir is certainly that) benefit from having traditional melodies and harmonies to assist in projecting the text. In short, Graffiti is as intelligent as it is beautiful, appealing, and exciting, and its less obviously modernist style certainly does not represent a retrenchment on Lindberg’s part, but rather an adaptation of his personal idiom to the music’s expressive demands.

Seht die Sonne (2007) for some reason takes its title from the final chorus of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. I truly don’t get the modern need to find cute titles for new works—Lindberg could have called it “Contraption 43” for all that it matters—but like Graffiti this is an absolutely bewitching piece of orchestral writing. Once again the mixture of tonal and textural elements creates a compelling musical tapestry, with moments of really powerful beauty and expressive intensity. I’m thinking particularly of the transition between the first and second movements, with its voluptuous violin writing, as well as the last several minutes of the entire work (its three movements run together without a break). As already suggested, the performances are vivid, even thrilling, the engineering outstandingly lifelike and (in Graffiti especially) well-balanced. Hot stuff!

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, May 2010

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.

Neil Smith
BBC Music Magazine, May 2010

Layers of sumptuous harmony melt into each other, masterfully controlled by one of the great modern orchestrators…the orchestra under Sakari Oramo is a treasure trove of colour.

David Gutman
International Record Review, March 2010

The instrumental surfaces are brilliantly accomplished, unmistakeably the product of the here and now…the recorded sound is good.

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