Album review: Lindberg perfection from Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Magnus Lindberg and Hannu Lintu in rehearsal at the FRSO Lindberg Festival in October 2019. © Jari Kallio

For more than three decades, Magnus Lindberg and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra have enjoyed a long and fruitful working relationship, well covered on disc by Ondine. During the Hannu Lintu tenure, the orchestra has released four albums of the composer’s music, featuring mostly premiere recordings.

Their latest album, recorded, for the most part, in conjunction with the FRSO’s two-week Lindberg festival in the fall of 2019, revisits some of the composer’s key repertoire from the nineties in superlative outings. The disc opens with Lindberg’s magnum opus of the era, Aura (1993-94), followed by the whirling, tactile tableau of Related Rocks (1997) for two pianos, two percussionists and electronics, and rounding off with the luminous orchestral colours of Marea (1989-90).

Cast in four movements, the forty-minute Aura is both a formidable summa of Lindberg’s post-Kraft (1983-85) period as well as a herald of the composer’s mature style. Despite its overall configuration, Aura is not a symphonic score, at least in any strict sense of the word. Rather, it comes off as an extended arch of musical transformations, clad in the most electrifying instrumental guises.

Given that Lindberg’s musical processes do not linger, the sheer amount and variety of material concealed within Aura is simply staggering. In the course of the vehement opening movement, the textures permute from ravishing tutti to intricate chamber music, culminating in the most gorgeous closing chord, bridging into the slow(ish) second movement and developing into a chorale-like statement.

The movement’s terrific spectrum of orchestral colour, manifesting in slowly rotating sonic pillars, ornamented with rapid bursts from the brass and mallet percussion, give rise to a wondrous sonic realm, fully endorsed by Lintu and the FRSO.

On the new recording, the awe-inspiring orchestral journeys of the first two movements, both almost fifteen-minute affairs, are given powerhouse powerhouse performances. Emanating in spacious ambience, Lindberg’s textures are awash with sparkling detail, marvellously contrasted by the ravishing rumour of the orchestral depths.

Thanks to Lintu’s admirable grasp of the sonic architecture, the musical fabric unravels organically throughout the movements, bearing family relationship with the intricate sonic workings of late Sibelius as well as those of Witold Lutosławski, to whose memory Aura is dedicated.

Clocking at around six minutes each, the last two movements are not only shorter than their opening counterparts, but they also point more clearly forward, pre-echoing things to surface in the course of Lindberg’s stylistic development over the next decades.

The flowing third movement picks up in speed, with its translucent lines woven into dancing machinery for full orchestra, with splendid twists and turns. In the earth-shaking closing movement, the musical fabric culminates in a tremendous orchestral eruption, followed by an illustrious coda, treading into some otherworldly realm of sound.

Again in perfect accord with Lindberg’s score, the FRSO and Lintu convey the third and fourth movement with uplifting energy and sonic finesse, serving both the core form and the surface detail with peerless musical imagination and craft. As a whole, their reading of Aura is to be counted among the most substantial entries in the Lindberg discography.

Magnus Lindberg supervising the FRSO rehearsals for Aura at the Helsinki Music Centre in October 2019. © Jari Kallio

Scored for two pianos, sampling keyboards and percussion, Related Rocks is one of the most exhilarating ensemble pieces by Lindberg. Realised at IRCAM, the score, conceived in a single fifteen-minute arch, reworks some aspects of the composer’s orchestral writing into a smaller scale setting, resulting in a captivating fusion of virtuoso chamber music and massed sonorities.

While the instrumental setup of Related Rocks bears inevitable associations with Béla Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937), a masterpiece in the medium, the two pieces have very little in common. With more extended percussion section and electronic samples at play, Lindberg’s sonic palette is quite different from that of Bartók’s. In fact, Related Rocks sounds almost orchestral in its fabulously multi-faceted timbral hue.

Coming in the heels of a series of works for orchestral ensembles, Related Rocks marked Lindberg’s first foray into electronics since the compositional process of Joy (1989-90). Even though reinventing chamber music was somewhat laborious task for the composer, the joint discoveries conceived in electronic and instrumental media result in profoundly fascinating solutions.

Related Rocks opens with an ebb and flow of deep-register murmurs from the pianos and percussion. Out of the shadows, a fanfare-like musical gesture emergres, setting the musical fabric in oscillating motion. A series of astonishing sonic transformations ensues, as the keyboard sonorities are merged with percussion and various samples of processed instrumental and orchestral sounds reworked into wonderful textural continuum.

As Related Rocks unfolds, the musical fabric assumes different shapes and guises, resulting in remarkable variety and organic growth. A feast of rhythmic configurations and spellbinding colours, Related Rocks is a brilliant juxtaposition of seamlessly flowing melodic lines and sharp-edged bursts.

The phenomenal live performance by pianists Emil Holmström and Joonas Ahonen, teaming up with percussionists Jani Niinimäki and Jerry Piipponen, under Lintu’s direction, provides Lindberg’s score with the outing of a lifetime. From its quasi-impressionistic opening to its culmination in tour-de-force funk, the ensemble’s precision, energy and commitment is top-class throughout, giving rise to a whirlwind of a take.

Lindberg’s agile instrumental lines are beautifully interlocked and ever aptly balanced, propelled by incessantly spirited rhythmic impetus. Well served by spacious recording, the intense counterpoint of Related Rocks glimmers is sonorous hue.

The album closes with a dazzling performance of Marea, recorded in November 2020. Written for downscaled orchestral forces, the sonic possibilities of the ensemble are vividly examined within the twelve-minute monolith. A feast of imagination, the dramaturgy of Marea stems from the crossings of its manifold musical currents, giving rise to an alluring hall of mirrors.

From its very opening bars on, Lindberg’s musical ocean is in constant flux, resolving into several sonic layers, yielding from rippling surfaces to deep undercurrents. Here and there, the kinetic energy in channeled into prominent ostinato figures, shifting the listeners attention from one musical layer to another. This goal-oriented dramaturgy forms the core of Marea’s sonic narrative, giving rise to a sequence of gripping orchestral events.

Perhaps the most striking these sections is the radiant coda, where the tempestuous textures are transformed into glistening little waves, gently oscillating on rock-laid shores under a swift sunrise; a cinematic close for a marvellously dramatic piece.

The sounding magic of Lindberg’s writing is beautifully captured by the extraordinary performance of the FRSO. With Lintu at the helm, the orchestra navigates through the sonic seas with hoisted colours, swiftly paced, ever in apt balance.

A superb album, these riveting performances provide us with some long-awaited updates to the Lindberg discography. A combination of live takes and studio sessions, the contributions of Lintu and the FRSO are further endorsed by sensitive post-production from the Ondine team. An instant classic, this disc will undoubtably become a sought-after item among collectors.

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Hannu Lintu, conductor

Emil Holmströmand Joonas Ahonen, keyboards

Jani Niinimäki and Jerry Piipponen, percussion

Magnus Lindberg: Aura – In memoriam Witold Lutosławski (1993-94) for orchestra

Magnus Lindberg: Related Rocks (1997) for two pianos, two percussionists and electronics

Magnus Lindberg: Marea (1989-90) for orchestra

Recorded at the Helsinki Music Centre in October 2019 (Aura, Related Rocks) and November 2020 (Marea)

Ondine Records ODE 1384-2 (2021), 1 CD

© Jari Kallio

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