It’s good to have recordings of these two works available at last: I was at the premieres of both pieces, both in London – Accused by Barbara Hannigan, the London Philharmonic and Vladimir Jurowski in the Royal Festival Hall in January 2015, and Two Episodes at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall a year later – but I had not heard them since then, and it’s always interesting to revisit one’s acoustic memories in the company of the music that caused them. I’m glad to relate that, though I was impressed by them first time around, they’re even better now than I recall.
Accused bears the subtitle ‘Three Interrogations for Soprano and Orchestra’ and that’s exactly what Magnus Lindberg gives you: settings of the interrogations, first, of the French revolutionary (and singer, as it happens) Théroigne de Méricourt (in 1791, in French), then of an anonymous East German woman by the Stasi (in the 1970s, in German) and lastly of Adrian Lamo, the hacker who exposed Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning to the US authorities (in 2013, in English).
It is basically a three-panelled dramatic scena, almost 40 minutes in the telling. The solo soprano sings the roles of both questioner and interrogatee (if that’s the word) in a vocal line that’s cruelly demanding – it reminds me of Luonnotar in places. Lindberg lets his orchestra off the leash, too: it’s no mere support of the soprano, and instead it boils and swirls and roils with an agenda of its own; and although Lindberg’s orchestral writing customarily decorates its main thrust with forests of curlicues and arabesques, here the melodic eddies and runs are unusually florid – making the job of the solo soprano all the more taxing. Anu Komsi tackles it with defiant authority – Komsi comme ça!
Lindberg’s Two Episodes attempt – perhaps for the first time in the history of music – to mirror a procedure one occasionally finds in architecture: it is the equivalent of adding a modern portico to some old and revered building (I. M. Pei’s Pyramide du Louvre, for example), since these Two Episodes are intended to lead directly into the beginning of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as well as enjoying a life of its own.
And just as such a new piece of architecture might pick up details from the earlier construction, so Lindberg’s Two Episodes share some DNA with the Beethoven. The dotted-rhythm falling fifth that opens the Symphony saturates the texture of Two Episodes from the start: a semitonal trumpet fanfare sets up the repeated figuration which provides much of the material of the highly rhythmic first episode while the winds suggest the opening gesture of the Beethoven. Towards the end of the first episode a chorale-like sequence in the strings, with sharp rhythmic interjections from timpani, basses and bassoon, prepares the way for the second episode, which opens with scalic figurations from a trumpet solo and horns, but the opening fanfare and Beethoven’s dotted rhythm are threaded through it to ensure continuity. As the excitement mounts, the music seems somehow to ‘discover’ the opening of the Beethoven, into which it can then lead – although it stands perfectly well as a symphonic diptych in its own right.
In both works Hannu Lintu obtains glorious playing from the musicians of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the members of the engineering team can congratulate themselves on recorded sound that ranges from chamber-music delicacy to knee-weakening power at the climaxes. Kimmo Korhonen contributes lucid notes, which read well in Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s stylish English translation.
Magnus Lindberg: Accused; Two Episodes
Anu Komsi (soprano); Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, cond. Hannu Lintu
Ondine ODE 1345-2