The interval of a perfect fifth, fundamental to the cantigas as it is to classical tonality as a whole, permeates the opening oboe melody, though anyone expecting a subdued work from this initial statement was in for a shock. Even by Lindbergs standards this was a visceral experience though, unlike the earlier Féria, where intensity is spread relatively evenly, Cantigas builds remorselessly through the five sections that make up its 18-minute span. Yet the impact unleashed is balanced by clarity, with passing emphasis on individual instruments and sections absorbed into the sheer density and vibrancy of the orchestral fabric.
As before with Lindberg, the closing bars bring a feeling of apotheosis without facile resolution an overriding calm which suffuses the texture with a Tapiola-like inevitability. The shock of finding his score had already arrived stage right he entered stage left apologising that nobody can find my score quite likely gave an added impetus to Esa-Pekka Salonens account. At any rate, Lindberg appeared delighted with both performance and audience response and no doubt the work too.
The impact of Cantigas was heightened by the curious but imaginative opening item. Selecting a viable sequence of excerpts from Boris Godunov is not easy, but concentrating on the Tsars monologues at least conveys something of the dramatic trajectory and musical consistency of this seminal opera. Beginning with orchestral music from the Prologue, Salonen proceeded to Boriss acceptance speech from Act Ones Coronation Scene; then, from Act Two, the fearful intimations of the Monologue, the hallucinatory trauma of the Clock Scene, and Act Fours heart-rending deathbed soliloquy.
Paata Burchuladze, making a relatively rare appearance in London, invested a good deal of force and pathos into his reading, and it was not his fault that the rather piecemeal undertaking precluded a greater gravitas from emerging. Salonen ensured the follow-through worked as well as it could, with the voices of the Russian people in the final excerpt captured on pre-recorded sample. An interesting experiment that did not quite work like the sequence as a whole.
Stravinskys The Rite of Spring an influence on Lindberg as on virtually every composer of note however negatively since its notorious premiere 88 years ago was from Salonen an incisive, athletic conception that is already well known to London audiences; his control from incidental detail to the overall two-part structure was rarely in doubt. Yet there is a dimension which is not conveyed by virtuosity alone, a sense of danger and vulnerability in the relationship between man and nature which that first-night audience surely comprehended, but which has become harder now that the music had insinuated itself into the collective conscience.
- The Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen perform Sibeliuss Kullervo and Lindbergs Kraft at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday, 2 December, at 7.30
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