Review of concert
Music of Magnus Lindberg, Fromm Foundation Visiting Professor
Saturday, April 15, 2006, 8:00 PM
Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg holds the occasionally filled post of Fromm Foundation Visiting Professor of Composition at Harvard University this semester. A concert of his works was presented in his honor last night, one that met with an effusively enthusiastic audience reaction after the final selection. Your reviewer felt the performances merited such adulation but not the music.
All the items heard here exhibited problems with architecture, harmonic clarity, texture, and melodic distinction to varying degrees. The clarinet/cello duet Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1990) proved the best listen; here, Lindberg relies on thinner scoring to keep verticals from oversaturation despite virtuosically busy writing for both instruments. The whole exudes a delightfully cockeyed charm ideally mirroring the Buster Keaton silent film whose title it shares. And structure, while lopsided, is at least perceivable -- a ternary with a super-sized opening followed with tinier slow and fast sections.
Nothing else pleased, though. The Piano Jubilees (2000) constitute Lindberg's first attempt at penning miniatures. Sadly, its six movements all sound pretty much the same, employing a floridly-spoken language that tries to imbue Ravel's Impressionist sound world with Ferneyhough's dense level of difficulty -- a combination that seems pretty but overwrought. Both UR (1986) for five players and electronics as well as the Clarinet Quintet (1992) come across similarly: excruciatingly opaque, lengthy, and intense atonal essays somewhat in the same aesthetic as Ralph Shapey with seemingly no concept of local contrast, harmonic shape, or long-range form. UR 's liberal employment of non-acoustic timbres and extended techniques is the only thing clearly setting it apart from its later companion.
Performances, though, were terrific. Pianist Randall Hodgkinson coped splendidly with the challenging Jubilees, seizing all color possibilities while making sure finger work was scrupulously clean and pedaling was tasteful. Michael Norsworthy (clarinet) and David Russell (cello) were stunningly good at traversing the pages of Steamboat Bill, Jr. , making every virtuoso demand seem effortless and striving mightily to bring out what background shapes existed. The rest had no shortage of fire and grit under Jeffrey Milarsky's baton, though one wonders if a little more shaping and a little less brassiness might have helped things out a bit.