As far as these appointments go, it was a bold statement. Alan Gilbert, incoming music director of the New York Philharmonic, didn't choose, as the composer-in-residence of his inaugural season, a New Yorker like himself, or even an American. Instead, he picked Magnus Lindberg, a celebrated composer on the global stage but relatively little-known to American audiences.
The choice, as soon became apparent to Philharmonic audiences, was a natural marriage of musical sensibilities. Gilbert is an expressive but unsentimental conductor, who pushes through grand lyrical moments with an eye towards the larger form. He has a flair for spectacular drama and color, but with a steely, modernistic edge.
And as he demonstrates on the Philharmonic's new album of Lindberg premieres, much of the same could be said of the Finnish composer: each piece showcases the lush harmonies and brilliant, sharp-edged timbres of Lindberg's richly expressive recent style, and each moves forward with the inevitability of seamless formal construction.
The result is a trio of captivating new works. EXPO, the splashy concert-opener Lindberg penned to celebrate the new partnerships between Philharmonic, music director, and composer-in-residence, tingles with a sense of anticipation, while Al largo, the wide-ranging work that closes the album, is suffused with breathless wonder. But the real treat here is Lindberg's Piano Concerto No. 2, thanks to yet another brilliant creative partner: Yefim Bronfman wrestles a sensationally virtuosic solo part into submission with playing as musically acute and expressive as it is athletic.
These are live recordings, which means that the audience can be heard to erupt into a chorus of bravos the moment the concerto's last chord sounds, and it's hard to imagine a crowd that wouldn't do the same. It's clear that Lindberg's Second, a concerto in the grand tradition of the form, is a potent and exhilarating addition to the repertoire, and Bronfman's thunderous account is irresistibly compelling.
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