Lindberg: Sculpture, Campana in aria, Concerto for Orchestra

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Esa Tapani/Sakari Oramo (Ondine ODE 1124-2)

21 December 2008 4 stars

SculptureMagnus Lindberg's music is muscular, texturally dense, and gesturally driven. It hovers through chromatic pitch centres in quite vibrant colours, and busies itself with tough yet varied dialectical workings of the material.

Sakari Oramo and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra proved themselves to be accomplished interpreters of Lindberg's quite traditionally symphonic (albeit richly and contemporaneously configured) music with their excellent recent recording of the coruscating Clarinet Concerto (ODE 1038-2, with other works). With this release, which collects together three substantial orchestral scores from the last decade of Lindberg's career in world premiere recordings, the same line-up again shows its mettle with three vivid, exciting, and intelligent performances.

The disc begins with Lindberg's Sculpture, a piece written for and inspired by Frank Gehry's new Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, echoing in sound its dense sculpted detail initially, and then in the final section with spatially distributed trumpets and Wagner tubas, its extensions and temporal dimensions. The work, as with the other two on the disc, moves through quite clearly defined (for example by absence or presence of pulse, by orchestral colour, or by nature of argument) sections in a carriage of the initial material, which is developed, added to, and finally transfigured completely through thematic working, and the poetic moment. The music is full of stylistic reminiscences, from the Varesian brittleness of the subterranean opening in which the lowest end of the orchestra is spotlighted (with bass clarinets, bassoons, harp, and left-handed piano all combining vividly), to quasi-minimalist gestures in the swapping around of the generative three-note motif, to the tough symphonism of Carl Nielsen and Robert Simpson in the broad argument and form. These evocations cohere, though, into an integrated voice that draws together various impulses into a quite convincing modern idiom of theme, development, and colour.

As the cavern of sound in Sculpture opens out, Oramo holds on steady to the momentum of the developments, and draws a brilliant palette of colour from the ensemble. Some thrilling solos are given in the penultimate section, before we reach a robust finale, where forthright rhythmic gestures underscore a tense but rousing review of the foregoing material. The performance has an adamantine forcefulness.

Campana in Aria (meaning 'bell up'), a mini-concerto for horn, takes its aesthetic cue from its title, with its suggestion of brilliant and brash brass music. The writing is clamorous and characteristic, with the solo horn aria (fixed mainly in the instrument's upper register) given depth and support by two other horns in the ensemble, a twisty piccolo flute at one memorable juncture, and various small percussion instruments. The strident solo part is handled with fluency and vigour by Esa Tapani, whilst the ensemble, who play the supporting role here (though an intricately woven support), always enliven the emotion of each twist and turn of the unfolding drama with a sharp gestures and potent and pithy commentary.

Again Lindberg shows himself in his Concerto for Orchestra, the final work on the disc, to be keenly attuned to the balance between simultaneous colour and successive movement that is crucial to his symphonic, majestic (in ambition anyway) music. Like Sculpture, the Concerto opens tensely, with fanfares of dense chromaticism bleeding into a richly characterised array of instrumental colour, before a central section highlighting various members of the ensemble in mini-cadenzas (lurid flute and liquid clarinet shine) moves the emphasis toward dialogue and difference, as opposed to the massed virtuosity of the final sections. A hard-won climactic final section draws the monument to a close, in this case with chromatically-inflected major triads that ease into an ambiguous repose, recalling the Mahlerian moments of lamenting ninth and thirteenth chords that occurred earlier, but also qualifying the movement of inevitability Oramo and his orchestra have wrought into their interpretation. Again the performance here is richly characterised, forcefully dynamic, and full of exhortatory brilliance.

By Stephen Graham