Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Finn in America

I'm not alone in finding the Finn Magnus Lindberg's Clarinet Concerto (ten years old this year) an enjoyable listen. Technically dazzling, both for the solo performer and as a feat of composition, it scintillates with inventive orchestral sounds and has a sensuous impact. It pays tribute to Debussy, Gershwin and Copland, which gives proof of Lindberg's intention to give pleasure.

The work has a memorable tune, outlined simply in the opening bars and thereafter elaborated and played with, rising in richer form prior to the cadenza and then finally returning as an out-and-out 'big tune' to bring the concerto to a rousing conclusion. Its beginnings are pastoral-sounding, fixing in the memory the theme's essentials: falling minor third, rising perfect fourth, falling major second, falling minor third and falling major second. Of these elements, the falling minor third and the falling major second are the fulcrum intervals and from their combination much else flows.

The Clarinet Concerto is continuous but has discernible sections. The first rings the changes on the theme, taking it to many places (all worth visiting) - some are jazzy, others sequential extensions, one seems to fleetingly recall The Rite of Spring. Tonal plateaus are occasionally reached. The first, at nearly three minutes in, is like a flare of intense major-key light. There's a wonderful brass-led transition where I hear the ghost of another Finn, Sibelius, which leads to a scherzo-like section, led off by the clarinet which arpeggiates, arabesques and trills to fine effect. The third section returns to the main theme, making it sparkle anew before hoisting it aloft proudly. Its American side (both rural and urban) is brought out most beautifully here. Multiphonics and thumping drums mark the start of the fourth section - the section dominated by the cadenza. The cadenza is, in Classical fashion, left for the soloist to improvise but it is reached gradually by a process that calls for a neologism: cadenzaisation! We emerge from this cadenza (hopefully) dazzled and ready for the composer's grand finale. This begins light-heartedly but bulks itself up with lots of brass and dashes about dizzyingly until the 'big tune' returns with a vengeance - the clarinet surfing a gorgeous orchestral wave - before the work winds itself down to a quiet close. 

Magnus Lindberg has moved some way from his early modernism, found in such works as Quintetto dell'estate (1979) and Ur (1986), though traces can still be heard loud and clear. 

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