On Friday, the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chief Conductor Hannu Lintu continued their celebration of the music and imaginative genius of Magnus Lindberg with the most rousing concert imaginable. Two key works by Lindberg, Kraft (1983-85) and Aura – in memoriam Witold Lutosławski (1992-94), were featured in the stupendous programme.
Thirty four years since its premiere at the 1985 Helsinki Festival, Kraft has become a contemporary classic par excellence. Despite its special technical and spatial demands, Kraft is performed on a regular basis by orchestras around the globe.
Still, each performance of Kraft is an event. Especially, when one gets a top team like the FRSO and Lintu to do it. In addition, a veritable virtuoso-line up of soloists, including the composer were assembled at the Helsinki Music Centre.
Kraft is a stupendous creation by the composer in his twenties. Written in Cold War West Berlin, in the midst of one of the most diverse and inspired scenes of musical creativity, Kratft was an unprecedented burst of energy in Finnish music.
Originally, Kraft was intended as a piano concerto, but over the course of the compositional process, the piece grew into a massive orchestral volcano, scored for five soloists, electronics and orchestra, dispersed in space.
For Kraft, Lindberg drew inspiration from diverse sources. With its revolutionary spirit, Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (1911-13) provided a spiritual impetus for the young composer. In similar vein, Stockhausen’s Gruppen (1955-57), with its unique musical complexity, extended in space, was another key influence. In addition, industrial and electronic noises of the Berlin experimental scene lured Lindberg to extend his sound palette with various impromptu percussion, made out of junkyard materials.
Yet, Kraft extends far beyond mere art of noise. While both extremes of dynamic scale are in use, the two movements of Kraft form a stunning sonic essay.
Kraft opens with a big bang, setting forth the formation of a unique sonic cosmos, expanding in time and space. The five soloists, alongside winds and brass, perform both onstage and offstage, creating surround effects akin to both renaissance polyphony and 20th century experimental electronica.
In contrast to massive tutti eruptions and seventy-part textures, there are passages of utmost delicacy, with captivating solo lines at the very threshold of silence.
There are several levels of dialogue at play, between the soli and the orchestra, between onstage and offstage ensembles and between music and noise, enhanced by the musique concrète of the junk percussion.
On the closing pages, huge pillars of sound are erected, as the music comes together into a series of massive chords, bringing Kratf to its overwhelming closure.
With utmost dedication and impeccable craft, the FRSO and five outstanding soli, Tuomas Lehto, Giuseppe Gentile, Kazutaka Morita and Naoki Yasuda, alongside the composer, all ravishingly conducted by Lintu, gave Kraft a performance of a lifetime. With sound engineer Juhani Liimatainen at the mixing board, the electronics were in safe hands.
Rarely have I experienced anything of such intensity in a concert hall. A milestone event, followed by a much-needed interval.
Compared to the sonic avalanche of Kraft, Aura – in memoriam Witold Lutosławski is indeed quite different animal. Cast in four movements and lasting forty minutes, Aura is the most extensive score by Lindberg to date. Clad in exquisite orchestral guise, it is a luminous journey into harmony and texture.
In Aura, Lindberg pursues further into the realm of harmonic colour, an endeavour launched with Kinetics (1988-89). With its four-movement span, the composer seeks an extended structure, with contrasts provided by brilliant, ever evolving orchestration, harmony and texture, rather than tempo. While Aura is not a symphony, it can be perceived as a contemporary counterpart to Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.
The score calls for a virtuoso orchestra (and conductor), with its urge for rhythmic precision, transparency and detailed phrasing. As with Kraft, one could hardly imagine more ideal group of performers than the FRSO and Lintu. Given that Aura is the source for a wide variety of ideas, examined by Lindberg over the past twenty five years, the performance gained enormously from the profound knowledge of the composer’s idiom by both the orchestra and the conductor.
From the first notes, emerging from the deep registers of the low strings, bass drum, contrabassoon and horns, to the magnificently translucent coda for strings, the two-hundred-page score was transformed into sounding reality with admirable talent and imagination. A thrilling performance, full of energy, riveting colour and eloquent phrasing, Aura was sheer joy.
For the spellbound audience, a full house, sold out within a day, this was an evening to remember. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to revisit both pieces on disc in the foreseeable future.
Finnnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Hannu Lintu, conductor
Magnus Lindberg, piano
Tuomas Lehto, cello
Giuseppe Gentile, clarinet
Kazutaka Morita, timpani
Naoki Yasuda, percussion
Juhani Liimatainen, electronics
Magnus Lindberg: Kraft (1983-85) for soloists, orchestra and electronics
Magnus Lindberg: Aura – in memoriam Witold Lutosławski (1992-94) for orchestra
Helsinki Music Centre
Friday 25 October 2019, 7 pm
© Jari Kallio