Lindberg: Clarinet Concerto, Gran Duo / Oramo, Kriikku

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First, a confession: I have always found Magnus Lindberg a hard nut to crack. His music is full of incident, he has a fastidious ear for sonority, and as composers go he is a virtuoso; but there is an aggressive edge to his work?as there is also with Birtwistle?which can sometimes make for a harsh, grating result. Lindberg?s music is dense and uncompromising: never dull? it?s far too clever for that?but rarely light-hearted or delicate either. His Clarinet Concerto of 2002 is a good example of the pros and cons of his work. Written for the amazing musician Kari Krikku, with whom he has often collaborated, it covers as wide a range of instrumental techniques as you (or Lindberg) could possibly imagine. The Concerto begins with a limpid Debussy-like figure from the soloist, who is soon joined by glistening strings and rhapsodic orchestral woodwinds; no doubt about it, the opening is gorgeous. Before too long, however, the ear tires (well, mine does) of the soloist?s rapid scales, piercing stratospheric tones, extreme register jumps, and split-reed growls. It is the contemporary equivalent of those 19th­-century piano concertos with their dense passages of virtuosity for its own sake; only the greatest composers managed to make music out of them. From moment to moment, this concerto is absorbing, but the argument constantly seems to be interrupted by banal pyrotechnics. Lindberg wrote the concerto expressly to showcase the talents of Krikku, but in my opinion he could have stepped back a little to see the bigger picture. The orchestral writing is highly polished?in no way do I wish to suggest there is anything second-hand about this music?and the performances from everyone here, not least the clarinetist, are phenomenal. The notes tell us the work falls into five sections, and that it has a ?dramaturgical? layout. I can?t hear any of that: to me, the form seems random, wandering from one episode or texture to another. A chorale from the soloist in alt accompanied by the orchestral brass turns up twice, the second time to close the work: that?s all the formal structure I could discern. Other listeners may respond on a more visceral level?and clarinet-players will be stunned. (They should also get hold of Krikku and Saramo?s Ondine recording of clarinet concertos by Crussell.)

Gran Duo , for 13 winds and 11 brass, was premiered by Sir Simon Rattle in Birmingham in 2002. The point of departure here is Stravinsky?s Symphonies of Wind Instruments . Maybe it?s because Lindberg is not showcasing a particular soloist?there are 24 soloists, in fact?but I find this work to be more interesting. The blocks of sound first posited by Stravinsky in his 1920 masterwork are elaborated with dense, virtuoso figuration. The cake/icing relationship as it might be termed of brass to wind is forever shifting, manipulated by the composer?s deft sleight of hand. (Excuse my mixed metaphor!) One of the most memorable moments is a solemn brass chorale following a gentle passage for flutes in their highest register. The harmony is polytonal; Lindberg rarely sounds to be in any particular key. The piece ends with somber brass chords centering on the trombones. If you enjoy the Stravinsky, you?ll certainly respond to this.

Chorale is a short work designed to be played with Berg?s Violin Concerto: it quotes the same Bach chorale, Es ist genung , and concludes on a resonant major chord from widely spaced strings. It feels like a study for some larger opus.

In spite of my reservations concerning the Clarinet Concerto, this is an engrossing disc overall. I find Lindberg similar to the Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür (they are only one year apart in age). Both composers produce music that is busy, dense, and texturally fascinating; both are at the peak of their creativity. To my mind, Tüür?s work satisfies on a deeper level, but that is to take nothing away from Ondine?s achievement. Sound is, as usual, first-class.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ODE 1038-2

  • UPC: 761195103821

  • Label: Ondine

  • Composer: Magnus Lindberg

  • Conductor: Sakari Oramo

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Kari Kriikku