While the Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg has written for all kinds of forces, his orchestral works are foremost in his output. The composer has quipped "My favourite instrument is the orchestra", and he delights in the timbral and spatial possibilities inherent in a large ensemble. This Ondine box set reissues orchestral works by Magnus Lindberg that had appeared on a number of the label's earlier releases from 1989 to 2008: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The box does not entirely replace those old discs, as it lacks Lindberg's concertos (presumably to appear in some later compilation), but it does offer a large part of the composer's output at a economical price, and as these performances are by Finnish musicians closely acquainted personally and professionally with Lindberg, they are well-nigh definitive.
I divide Lindberg's mature career into three somewhat overlapping phases. The first phase was atonal and interested mainly in rhythm and visceral impact, and it is represented here by "Tendenza" (1982) and "KRAFT" (1985). The former is a frenetic exercise in post-serialism. The latter is an awesome work with a metre-high score, 80-part harmonies and a huge percussion battery that includes scrap metal. On one hand, the first movement is inspired to some degree by Lindberg's experiences of punk rock and industrial music while travelling in Europe, but beneath that brutal surface lurks (and occasionally takes over) the model of mid-century modernism. Few contemporary classical pieces reconcile such separate musical worlds.
The second period continues the strong gestures of the first, and in fact evolves into a sort of super-caffeinated mood, but now the focus is on harmony. At their heart, these works take the form of a chaccone, progressing either motorically or through vast surges, and with few truly slow movements. These works here are "Kinetics" (1988-89), "Marea" (1989-90), "Joy" (1989-90), "Corrente" (1992), "Corrente II" (1992), "Coyote Blues" (1993), "Arena" (1995), "Arena 2" (1996), "Feria" (1997), "Gran Duo" (1999-2000), "Chorale" (2001-02) and the Concerto for Orchestra (2003). In my opinion, Lindberg was at his best in this period and nearly a decade after I discovered these pieces, they continue to be a large part of my listening. A few listeners have criticized works from this time as e.g. "special-effects music", feeling they lack substance, but my experienceis very different: I find these pieces full of detail (including cleverly hidden allusions to the classical canon) with endless replay value.
Lindberg's latest period is something of a disappointment, marked by a loss of energy and not only an interest in melody, but a move towards generic neo-Romanticism. Earlier he had stated "Only the extremes are interesting", but recent commisions are the contemporary classical equivalent of MOR pop music. Luckily, this box set features only one piece from this era, "Sculpture II" (2005). Still, as Lindberg was looking back towards music he had written decades before, it's not as bad as it could have been.
Anyone interested in contemporary classical music should familiarize themselves with Magnus Lindberg, and this box set is a good introduction. If you come to love this music, be aware that it is not a complete survey of Lindberg's orchestral music, and a few pieces from these decades must be sought elsewhere. A Sony disc and DG disc feature other triumphs.