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CD Review

Magnus Lindberg

  • EXPO
  • Piano Concerto #2 *
  • Al largo
* Yefim Bronfman, piano
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Alan Gilbert
Da Capo 8.226076
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The openness, airy, upward-seeking orchestral qualities of Finnish composer, Magnus Lindberg (born 1958), are well to the fore in this excellent CD on Da Capo containing three major orchestral works with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under its Music Director, Alan Gilbert, with Yefim Bronfman soloist in Lindberg's Second Piano Concerto.

The music is also all essentially optimistic, affirmative and positive. In places (the middle of the relatively short (at barely ten minutes) EXPO [tr.1], which dates from 2009, for instance) the writing is positively "brassy". But it's never course nor vulgar. Just very outgoing. Commissioned by the orchestra, it was played not once but twice in 2009 – which is somewhat unusual. It's a work whose melodic and textural ideas develop in almost perfect pace and ratio with its compact scope. Contrasting tempi are at the work's center and its resolution is achieved only at the end of the piece, with which the orchestra is utterly at home.

The Piano Concerto is as "conventional" as its three-movement form and sense of opposition, solist against orchestra, allow. There are echoes of Ravel and perhaps Rachmaninov. As will hardly be surprising, Bronfman plays with restrained but undisguised power. The matching energy of the New York Philharmonic's playing, though, tends to match and complement the piano soloist; indeed the miking gives the impression as much of a collaboration as a competition.

Airiness and a sense of being outdoors continues with Al largo, which is intended to suggest being so far out to sea that no land is visible. For some of Lindberg's contemporaries this might mean that anything is possible. In this case the connotation is rather of the richness (fanfares, changes in meter, varying textures and instrumental colors) of which a full orchestra is capable – just as the sea swells, moves in waves and can swallow or emit. Al largo is not a tone poem, though. It's about itself as much as anything from nature. Though the final bars do quote from Verklärte Nacht.

There is a certain similarity, though scarcely sameness, between the three pieces on this CD. It's none of it "difficult" music, or particularly challenging. The orchestra stands four square behind the composer's intentions. They understand his pre-occupations, support his intentions, and are familiar with his large-scale idiom. Indeed they are also highly suited to the expansiveness and breadth of Lindberg's musical conceptions. Their own technique aids what many will find a stimulating if not overly exploratory hour's music.

The pieces were all recorded at the New York Philharmonic's home in the Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, though on different dates in 2009, 2012 and 2010 respectively. Audience applause has been left in. Yet these are performances that emphasize the music not the occasion – thrilling though the atmosphere of a live performance of new music is. The booklet (in English and Danish) has a corporate feel to it, drawing attention to the New York Philharmonic's sponsors and commercial positioning. Though it also contains a good essay on Lindberg, who was the New York Philharmonic's composer-in-residence, of course, from 2009 to 2012. Admirers and collectors of Lindberg's varying and intriguing larger scale works will want to get this release… none of the three pieces is otherwise available on CD.

Copyright © 2013, Mark Sealey