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Magnus LINDBERG (b. 1958) Accused: Three Interrogations for soprano and orchestra (2014) [38:19] Two Episodes (2016) [17:56]
Anu Komsi (soprano)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. 2017/19, Helsinki Music Centre, Finland
Texts and English translations included ONDINE ODE1345-2 [56:31]
I find the Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg one of the most exciting composers working today. His music, to put it simply, sounds marvellous. There is a glitter and sparkle about his orchestral works which reminds me of Mozart, with splendid fanfares for the upper brass and great skirling passages for the wind and strings and surging harmonies for the lower brass. Above all he has a wonderful sense of movement: you feel you are going somewhere. This is as true of his early hard-edged modernist works such as Kraft as it is of the works he is writing now, which could be called neo-romantic. He has been well recorded but it is the Finnish label Ondine, with the help of the Finnish Music Foundation, which has been his most consistent champion and which has now given us their latest disc of his work.
Lindberg had written little vocal or choral music before Graffiti in 2009. This led to his writing the large-scale orchestral song cycle Accused, which is the first work here. The texts Lindberg has chosen are very unusual. There are three, one each in French, German and English. Each is a dialogue between an interrogator and a suspect, each of whom is being investigated for political rather than criminal activities. The solo soprano sings both parts of the dialogue. The first, shorter than the others, sets an incident from the French Revolution. This concerns Théroigne de Méricourt, who was a campaigner for women’s issues. The second is an interrogation by the Stasi, the secret police in the now defunct German Democratic Republic (East Germany), of a woman who had been found with copies of a banned West German magazine. The third is an interrogation of Adrian Lamo, who revealed that Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning) had provided confidential material to Wikileaks.
Clearly the aim here is worthy but the work is problematic in a number of ways. For a start, the texts of the interrogations, though important historical documents, are without literary merit. They are just not very interesting. Then the way Lindberg has set them is in a kind of endless arioso. Each text is far too long for a cogent musical setting. It does not help that each one is a dialogue but one singer has to sing both sides of it. And finally, I have to say that the work seems to have no shape as a whole. It just goes on. The orchestra makes some lovely sounds but I have to admit that Accused is the first work of Lindberg which I find actually boring.
Matters are put right in Two Episodes, the other work here. This was commissioned to share a programme with Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Lindberg has acknowledged an affinity with Beethoven, particularly in his string writing. He writes here for an orchestra closer to the size of Beethoven’s than he usually employs, with triple wind but no tuba, harp or piano and a reduced percussion section. The work is in two parts with a pause in between. There are occasional echoes of the Beethoven, but not of the finale. This is in much more what I regard as the real Lindberg idiom and I enjoyed it.
The performances seem thoroughly idiomatic. The conductor Hannu Lintu and his orchestra have a good track record with Lindberg’s music: this is the third disc of his music that they have made. The singer, Anu Komsi, who sings Accused here, has apparently performed it a number of times. She has a lovely voice but I have to say that her diction is not clear in any of the three languages. Fortunately, the booklet contains the texts, with English translations of the first two parts.
Despite my disappointment with Accused I still look forward to each Lindberg disc: his is a voice worth following.