Related Rocks – 30th November

Three Pieces
Six Jubilees [UK premiere]
Clarinet Quintet
Lyric Suite

Kari Kriikku (clarinet)
Magnus Lindberg (piano)
Arditti Quartet
[Irvine Arditti & Graeme Jennings (violins), Dov Scheindlin (viola) & Rohan da Saram (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 30 November, 2001
Venue: Purcell Room, London

These things take time … at least in the case of Magnus Lindberg’s String Quartet, scheduled for its UK premiere this evening. In the event, Lindberg decided that the quartet he was in a position to write wasn’t the one he wanted to compose, and the project remains for the future. (For more on this, read interview with Lindberg.)

What we did get was no mere filler – namely a complete performance of Six Jubilees, only Lindberg’s second mature piano piece, and a welcome alternative slant on a composer known principally for his orchestral music. ’Jubilee I’ was written as Lindberg’s contribution to a cycle commemorating Pierre Boulez’s 75th-birthday. Although it features no discernible Boulez quotations, the piece is so alive with evolving gestures as to warrant continuation. The remaining five pieces develop its motivic and harmonic potential – culminating in ’Jubilee VI’, where the original’s formal potential is audibly laid bare.

No disrespect to Lindberg to say his piano idiom is not notably individual in itself. Messiaen is evident in the chordal writing and keyboard texture, albeit filtered through later French composers such as Boulez and Tristan Murail, but the formal continuity between pieces and across the cycle is patently Lindbergian. And the trajectory where odd-numbered pieces speed up, while even-numbered ones slow down makes performance appropriate in the context of Berg’s Lyric Suite. Good to hear Lindberg as performer too, projecting his iridescent piano writing with accuracy – to judge from a cursory following of the score – and confidence.

The Clarinet Quintet (1992) may give some indication of what an eventual Lindberg string quartet will sound like. In its extremes of register and glacial textures, this is perhaps his most ’Nordic’ work, though the music draws on no obvious precedents – Finnish or otherwise – in its intently pulsating energy, culminating in a section of toccata-like exhilaration. This is very much a work for five equal players, and Kari Kriikku’s integration into the ensemble of the Arditti Quartet ensured that the music’s surging activity came through unchecked.

The Arditti’s framed the Lindberg pieces with two classics of the quartet repertoire. Stravinsky’s Three Pieces (1914) is a classic example of a sequence whose overall coherence stems from its inner contrasts. The sophisticated primitivism of the opening piece; the whimsical rhythmic mannerisms of the second; the distanced ceremonial aura of the third: all would reappear in Stravinsky’s output, but never so directly as here.

Where Stravinsky is reductive, Berg’s Lyric Suite is a complex amalgam of technique and expression – charting the perceived rise and fall of love at a musical and, as we now know, conceptual level. Yet the fascination would be little were the work of a lesser intrinsic quality, one of the few quartets of any era to reflect the past as surely as it predicts the future. If the Arditti’s tilted the balance of their interpretation towards the analytical, the expressive playing of violist Dov Scheindlin ensured this was an account to engage heart as well as brain, while confirming the flexibility-within-discipline of Berg’s quartet writing. A quality Lindberg himself may in time draw upon?

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