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Len Mullenger:


Aura, Engine*
BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta*/Oliver Knussen
DG 463 184-2   [51'22"]

Magnus Lindberg and I agree: "My favourite instrument is the orchestra". We also came into the world in the same year (1958) but he arrived in Helsinki, me in London.

Lindberg's is a distinctive voice in contemporary music. He has a huge imagination for sound and the ability to conjure space. Aura, a concerto for orchestra written in memory of Lutoslawski, is a big piece (37 minutes) which contrasts and integrates the orchestra in the most commanding way. Lindberg chooses unlikely combinations (trumpet against piano, high winds against xylophone, scurrying strings with metal sheets in attendance) or blends various instruments to form a consort invoking far-away panoramas.

Lindberg doesn't rely on sound only; harmony is equally important. Aura has a structure (albeit one a little hazy) with defined points of arrival and an ultimate destination (the final bars are a magical distillation of earlier promise: to reach them one almighty, purging climax is required - a fantastic sequence). Lindberg's language is approachable (melodic cells feed and develop Aura's discourse) and there's plenty of surface activity with rapid contrasts of colour. This is a really fine piece which is perhaps a tad too long - I think Lindberg is slightly too occupied with Aura's display element (mini cadenzas) and occasionally sidelines its symphonic aspirations, but Aura's main argument is rarely abandoned. This is music with a wide appeal with something to say and crosses boundaries saying it. Anyone who admires Lutoslawski's Third or Fourth Symphonies will be on home-ground; there's some Carter-like passages, affiliations to Colin Matthews, and the consonant imagery (if not the language) of John Adams. I offer these composers purely as a guide - Lindberg is his own man and has created a very distinctive catalogue of works.

Engine (1996) isn't so welcoming. Its fifteen minutes of stuttering rhythms and dissonant chords certainly compels attention. Perhaps Berio and Xenakis come to mind but Lindberg has a softer edge (although his scoring can be hard-edged) and some solos are quite playful and improvisatory. Again there are plenty of contrasting timbres and the piece doesn't get stuck in a groove; indeed it juggernauts and hesitates before stopping.

The performances are first-class of course. I did wonder about some of the balances in Aura. I thought the percussion slightly too spotlit and wondered if some filigree detail in the orchestra's lower spectrum was as cleanly defined as it might be. This is a minuscule caveat concerning an important release of first recordings. Another version of Aura would be very welcome - I'm sure that Salonen, Saraste or Oramo would have a view on music that is open to interpretation. Meanwhile this DG release is a winner.


Colin Anderson




(recording - Aura)

(recording - Engine)

and Peter Grahame Woolf adds


Short measure, you might think, but do not let that put you off! These are two major works from magnus Lindberg (b.1958) the leading Finnish composer who has had a long association with Oliver Knussen and has often been featured in UK festivals.

Aura (1994) is a massive work for large orchestra in four movements played without a break, composed in memory of Lutoslawski. It can be thought of as a symphony - or not; the same issue as between Sibelius's Tapiola and his No.7. It is characterised by tremendous energy and colour, with rich sonorities and powerfully effective in the concert hall.

Engine, composed soon afterwards for the London Sinfonietta and premiered at Aldeburgh in 1996, has its rules and constraints computer-generated, but you'd never guess. Lindberg's studies at IRCAM have, he believes, led him paradoxically to greater freedom because of the construction of those constraints.

I suspect I am far from alone in being totally unable to understand the intellectual basis of this music, but it is a delight to hear and the bringing back into Engine of counterpoint means that listening is not so different from how one listens to more traditional music.

Lindberg orchestrates with a sure touch and Knussen is his ideal interpreter and collaborator (see S&H review of Knussen conducting Lindberg at Finland's Avanti Festival in Porvoo, July 2000). Both orchestras are on top form and there is no reason do doubt that these are authoritative performances, though I have not seen either score. Excellent recording in London, at the BBC's Maida Vale Studio and at Henry Wood Hall.

Relax, enjoy and don't try to hard to understand what is going on. The surface is sufficient; be re-invigorated.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Having heard this disc I feel compelled to add my two-penneth. Aura is the finest contemporary piece I have heard for some time. No tunes of course, but recognizable motifs that develop in an organic way to give the impression of growth and foreward development - the music goes somewhere; it tells a story - nothing sounds at all arbitrary. There is such  diversity of orchestral colour and the playing of the BBC symphony orchestra is staggering - just how much rehearsal time do they get? I have to disagree  with Colin over the sound quality. I heard this on blushingly expensive high-end equipment and the balance, realism and depth of sound was truly impressive- not something I can always say about DG recordings. To give some indication of what the music sounds like it reminded me very strongly of the music of Rautavaara, particularly Angels and Visitations but without the repetitive element of that work.

Len Mullenger





Colin Anderson



Peter Grahame Woolf

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