On record – Lindberg: Aura, Marea & Related Rocks (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Hannu Lintu) (Ondine)

lindberg

Lindberg
Aura (1993-4)
Related Rocks (1997)
Marea (Tide) (1989-90)

Emil Holmström, Joonas Ahonen (pianos/keyboards), Jani Niinimäki, Jerry Piipponen (percussion) (all in Related Rocks), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Hannu Lintu

Ondine ODE1384-2 [66’59”]

Producer Laura Heikinheimo; Engineers Anna-Kaisa Kemppi, Antti Pohjola, Enno Mäemets October 2019 and bDecember 2020 at Music Centre, Helsinki

Recorded October 2019 and December 2020 (Marea) at Music Centre, Helsinki

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Ondine continues its extensive coverage of Magnus Lindberg with this retrospective volume of works mainly written in the 1990s; at a time when the Finnish composer was moving away from his overtly avant-garde stance to an accommodation with the contemporary mainstream.

What’s the music like?

It was when Lindberg was writing Aura that Lutosławski died, hence the memorial dedication of a piece which represents a conscious summation of what the younger composer had striven for to that time. Its almost 40-minute duration and its division into four movements led some commentators to attribute a symphonic conception; something that the predicating of gestural over motivic continuity effectively refutes. That said, the initial section does have a feeling of exposition in its respective dynamism and stasis; ultimately arriving at a seismic unison chord from which its successor unfolds along the lines of ‘slow movement’ with an initial emphasis on the rhetorical interplay of brass and strings, followed by an evocative episode with tuned percussion and woodwind to the fore. Another unison leads to the third section, its animated motion nominally akin to a scherzo though with only a halting momentum on the way to the final section; a finale inasmuch as it takes the piece through to a threnodic conclusion, albeit with only a tangential bringing of the overall structure formally and expressively full circle.

Although the trajectory of Lindberg’s output thereafter was toward greater harmonic clarity and tonal directness, there have been numerous ‘curve balls’ – not least Related Rocks with its electronic gloss on the favourite modernist line-up of two pianos and two percussionists. Nor is there anything remotely proscriptive about one of this composer’s most effervescent and playful works (not least via a doubtless coincidental allusion at one point to the theme-tune of the 1970s snooker programme Pot Black), as retains its appeal a quarter-century on.

Finally, to Marea – central piece in an informal trilogy of works for chamber orchestra that exemplify Lindberg’s music towards the end of his first decade of creative maturity. At just 12 minutes, it might also be considered a template for those curtain-raisers often found in the composer’s recent output; though the level of incident and intricacy of texture, underpinned by an upward-striving trajectory, evinces a simplification too often replaced by superficiality once the composer arrived at an idiom lending itself gratefully to international commissions.

Does it all work?

Mainly, given Lindberg was seeking to extend his musical language onto a wider expressive canvas without veering towards the diluted idiom often informing his idiom thenceforth. No doubt that, whatever its formal issues, Aura stands among of the crucial orchestral works of its period and Hannu Lintu’s take is a worthy successor to the pioneering account from Oliver Knussen (DG). Marea summons a feisty response by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, while those keyboardists and percussionists render Related Rocks with scintillating virtuosity.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Those who dislike the rebarbative feel of Lindberg’s early music or are unpersuaded by his latter-day output ought to find something worth engaging with in these pieces. Neither the high-impact sound nor booklet notes by Kimmo Korhonen leaves anything to be desired.

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Ondine website. You can read more about Lindberg here. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra are here, and their conductor Hannu Lintu’s website can be accessed by clicking here.

On record – Vasks: Oboe Concerto, Message & Lauda (Albrecht Mayer, Latvian National Symphony Orchestra / Andris Poga) (Ondine)

vasks-ondine

Vasks
Oboe Concerto (2018)
Message (Vēstijums) (1982)
Lauda (1985)

Albrecht Mayer (oboe), Latvian National Symphony Orchestra / Andris Poga

Ondine ODE1355-2 [68’37”]

Producer / Engineer Normunds Šnē

Recorded 16-17 and 20-21 July 2020 at Great Guild Hall, Riga

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Ondine continues its coverage of Pēteris Vasks (b1946) with this release featuring his recent Oboe Concerto, alongside pieces from the 1980s, in what is a viable overview of the music of his maturity and reminder of his status as the leading Latvian composer of his generation.

What’s the music like?

Premiered in October 2018 with the performers on this recording, the Oboe Concerto is the seventh concertante work Vasks has written (his third for woodwind) and, at over 33 minutes, is on a sizable scale. Of its three movements, Morning pastorale has a preludial function in the way that the soloist emerges gently and wistfully against a discreet orchestral backdrop. This gradually builds to a climax, at whose apex the Scherzando begins with its lively interplay between soloist and orchestra – at length subsiding into a secondary ‘trio’ theme of piquant elegance. There follows an animated development, culminating (just before mid-point) in a plaintive cadenza then return to the opening music, prior to a coda of some fervency which   is held over at the start of Evening pastorale. The soloist duly comes to the fore for a calm soliloquy, building towards a forceful climax before a return to the mood of the opening and a whimsical leave-taking. A limited range of expression might leave this work seeming over-long but, with Albrecht Mayer pacing it superbly, the larger design more than sustains itself.

Of the two earlier pieces, Message – scored for two pianos, strings and percussion – reflects the impact of minimalist traits in its relatively static harmonies and rhythmic repetition, while Lutosławski (then completing his influential Third Symphony) and Górecki (then in his most overtly minimalist phase) can be detected in passages of textural freedom that afford contrast with those of expressive directness. Vasks himself comes through during the climactic stages, the music’s restrained fervour heightened on the way to a culmination of scintillating impact.

Although only his second major work for full orchestra, Lauda is typical for the way Vasks builds its cumulative structure through a dovetailing of instrumental groupings over a steady rhythmic undertow such that an inexorable momentum comes gradually, even unexpectedly to the fore. The journey is a stealthy and eventful one that draws both modal and plainchant elements into its emotional orbit; with the brass assuming dominance as the title is evoked in a resounding climax which leaves woodwind then strings musing plaintively in its wake.

Does it all work?

Yes, in the main. Whatever the stylistic variety across his output of several decades, Vasks remains a relatively self-effacing composer who never seeks to gain listeners’ attention by overly demonstrative means. His is rather an incremental and slow-burning approach which yields its musical rewards often in retrospect, as is true of the Oboe Concerto and – albeit to   a lesser degree – of those other works here. It helps that the playing of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, under the assured direction of Andris Poga, is so attuned to his music.

Is it recommended?

Yes, and not only to those who have already acquired previous releases from this source. The sound is up to Ondine’s usual standards in its clarity and realism, along with detailed booklet notes from Orests Silabriedis. Hopefully Vasks’s recent Sixth Quartet will be recorded soon.

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Ondine website. You can read more about Vasks here, and click here to read more on soloist Albrecht Mayer. The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra are here, while conductor Andris Poga’s website can be accessed by clicking here.

On record: Leila Josefowicz, Soloists, Finnish RSO / Hannu Lintu – Zimmermann: Violin Concerto & Die Soldaten (Ondine)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leila Josefowicz (violin); Anu Komsi, Jeni Packalen (sopranos), Hilary Summers (contralto), Peter Tantsits (tenor), Ville Rusanen (baritone), Juha Uusitalo (bass), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Hannu Lintu

Zimmermann
Violin Concerto (1950)
Die Soldaten – Vocal Symphony (1963)
Photoptosis (1968)

Ondine ODE1325-2 [73’45”]

Producer Laura Heikinheimo
Engineers Enno Mäemets, Anna-Kaisa Kamppi (Photoptosis), Jari Rantakaulio (Violin Concerto), Antti Pohjola (Die Soldaten)

Recorded June 2016 (Photoptosis), May 2018 (Violin Concerto), live in September 2018 (Die Soldaten) at Helsinki Music Centre, Helsinki

What’s the story?

A belated though most welcome addition to those releases marking the centenary of the birth of Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-70), the Cologne-based composer whose singular music has gradually gained in recognition during the almost half-century since his untimely demise.

What’s the music like?

One of Zimmermann’s earliest successes, the Violin Concerto emerged out of a Violin Sonata from two years earlier. Most distinctive is the central Fantasia, whose rapt intensity (notably in its closing pages) is thrown into relief by the movements either side – a vehement opening Sonata with antecedents in Hindemith and Hartmann, then a final Rondo whose element of rumba duly adds to the heady abandon. Leila Josefowicz (who gave a memorable account of the Sonata at Wigmore Hall – reviewed by Arcana here) touches all the expressive bases for this impressive reading.

It was with his opera Die Soldaten that Zimmermann fully came into his own as a composer. Its gestation (1957-65) was a protracted one, during which the dramatic concept was radically overhauled without diluting the music’s emotive power. Intended to demonstrate the latter’s practicability (along the lines of Berg’s Lulu Symphony a quarter-century before), this Vocal Symphony comprises scenes from the first two of four acts in which the ultimately tragic fate of merchant’s daughter Marie at the hands of a brutal military class is set in motion.

Among the six soloists, Anu Komsi and Hilary Summers stand out for their security in the acrobatic vocal lines, while without eschewing more tangibly human expression. Yet it is in the purely orchestral episodes where Zimmermann’s increasing radicalism comes fully into focus – the Preludio with its melange of competing textures over the remorseless tread of drums; then the Intermezzo during Act Two – the simultaneity of action onstage mirrored by a layering of musical events with Zimmermann’s trait of timbral contrast rendered at its most visceral.

By the time of the ‘prelude for large orchestra’ that is Photoptosis, the composer’s idiom had found even greater power and concentration – evident in the textural stratification of its outer sections as they build from fugitive unease to assaultive violence. Between them, an interlude of half-remembered quotations and allusions ranges from the provocative to the inane – as if to confirm that remorseless ‘closing-in’ of the musical past on that of the present, and thereby denying any purpose for a creative future such as overcame Zimmermann in his final years.

Does it all work?

Yes, and not least when the performances are as perceptive as they are here. Both the Violin Concerto and Photoptosis have been recorded several times, not least by Thomas Zehetmair (ECM) and Karl-Heinz Steffens (Capriccio), though these new accounts would now be first choices. The Soldaten-Symphony has had no previous commercial recording (live readings by Hiroshi Wakasugi in 1978 and Peter Hirsch in 2014 can be heard on YouTube), making this an essential addition to the Zimmermann discography aside from its artistic excellence.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Hannu Lintu draws a committed response from his Finnish Radio Symphony players, recorded with unstinting clarity and the programme afforded context by a thoughtful booklet note from Mark Berry. An impressive release with which to mark Zimmermann’s centenary.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about this release on the Ondine website

Under the surface – Kuula Orchestral Music

kuula

Composer: Toivo Kuula (1883-1918)

Nationality: Finnish

What did he write? Kuula is not well known outside of Finland, but in his home country his reputation rests largely on his vocal music, the record company Ondine describing him as ‘a colourful and passionate portrayer of Finnish nature and people’. His catalogue includes numerous works for male choir.

What are the works on this new recording? For this disc of some of his orchestral music, Leif Segerstam has chosen the most popular works in the two South Ostrobothnian Suites­ – the Finnish region where Kuula lived. They led to him being dubbed as a successor to Sibelius. Complementing these are the Festive March and the Prelude and Fugue. All the works date from the last decade of the composer’s short life.

What is the music like? Much of it is attractive, if a little undemanding. The Prelude and Fugue feels as though it is trying a little too hard to impress, but the Festive March is a natural and spontaneous composition that sounds like Brahms on holiday.

Perhaps because they describe the Finnish country, the South Ostrobothnian Suites are the most colourful music here. The first suite is especially notable for the graceful, silvery Folk Song, where the strings taking the lead, while there is a surprisingly rustic feel to the Devil’s Dance. Meanwhile in the second suite a clean orchestral picture emerges for The Bride Arrives, while Kuula shows a gift for picture painting in the evocative woodwind calls towards the end of Rain in the forest. Perhaps the most memorable picture painting occurs in the gamelan figuration of Will-o-the-wisp, the last number in the second suite – which is beautifully played by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and their conductor Leif Segerstam.

What’s the verdict? If you like classical music to be slightly in the background then this is ideal, music that doesn’t make too many demands on the listener but is nonetheless rewarding when painting a picture of Finland. It is true the attractive cover draws you in, but on many occasions here there is music to match.

Give this a try if you like… Dvořák, Grieg or lighter Brahms

Spotify Playlist

You can listen to excerpts from the disc at the Presto website (be sure to click on the ‘Listen’ tab)

Meanwhile you can hear the composer’s complete songs for male voice choir on Spotify here: