New York’s Movado Hour concludes with Magnus Lindberg

Lindberg, Columbi, Saariaho, Stucky, Neikrug, Tan Dun, Schulhoff : Magnus Lindberg (piano), Jennifer Koh (violin), Anssi Karttunen (cello), The Movado Hour, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Howard Gilman Performance Space, 10.5.2011 (BH)

Magnus Lindberg : Sonatas for violin and piano (1979)

The Mystery Variations on Giuseppe Colombi’s Ciacona for solo cello:
*Colombi: Ciacona
*Saariaho: Dreaming Chaconne (US Premiere)
*Stucky: Partite sopra un basso, per Anssi (US Premiere)
*Neikrug: Tiny Columbi for Anssi (US Premiere)
*Lindberg: Duello (US Premiere)
*Tan Dun: Chiacona – after Columbi (US Premiere)

Erwin Schulhoff : Duo for violin and cello (1925)

Lindberg : Trio for violin, cello and piano (2009/2011, World premiere)

This exquisitely thoughtful evening was the season closer of The Movado Hour, the Baryshnikov Arts Center’s series of hour-long programs, always with some of the best musicians anywhere. A packed house was on hand to hear Magnus Lindberg at the piano in two of his own works, first collaborating with the fiery Jennifer Koh in his Sonatas for violin and piano (1979). Shuddering trills and tremolos course through the piece, occasionally interrupted by a tranquil bar or two; near the end the piano hammers some massive chords before both musicians come to a quiet rest.

Thirty years separate this work from Lindberg’s Trio for violin, cello and piano, given its world premiere here, with the ghost of Ravel’s composition for the same instruments lingering nearby. Lindberg’s Trio probably startled some with its relative romanticism (even a tonal chord at the end of the first movement), although make no mistake: the crunchy chords, harmonics and other 21st-century techniques left no doubt about the creator’s identity. He and Koh were joined by the great Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen, who had an especially notable, elaborate solo that opened the final movement. The sweeping gestures and broadly scaled, intense interplay between the three might suggest an interesting new direction in Lindberg’s compositional concerns.

In between, Karttunen played five of the series of short pieces commissioned for his 50th birthday by his wife, the painter Muriel von Braun, and composer Kaija Saariaho. Inspired by Giuseppe Colombi’s Ciacona – the first extant piece for solo cello (from the mid-17th century) – thirty-one composers created brief homages, most lasting barely two minutes. Karttunen began with the skittering Colombi itself, followed by tributes from Saariaho, Steven Stucky, Marc Neikrug, Tan Dun and Lindberg. As a group they made liberal use of glissandi, trills, double stops, arpeggios – even some vocalizing (“Chaconne”) while slapping the instrument. Karttunen’s focus and precision were astonishing – so much so, that the entire set would have been welcome, time permitting.

The works of Erwin Schulhoff, whose career was tragically snuffed out in a concentration camp, seem to be gaining more traction as time goes on, and this Duo for violin and cello is a vivid example of why he should be much better known. The bravura display is almost constant, and neither Ms. Koh nor Mr. Karttunen seemed particularly fazed by the dazzling writing. The second movement is particularly impressive: gutsy and heavily accented, with a tricky left-hand pizzicato figure for the violinist that Koh executed flawlessly.

Bruce Hodges