Impressive Music Making by Christian Lindberg and a Student Orchestra

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Lindberg, Stravinsky, Gershwin: Viviana Mologni (timpani, soprano), Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Wind Orchestra, Christian Lindberg (conductor), Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 30.5.2012 (GPu)

Lindberg, Concerto for Winds and Percussion
Lindberg, Otavia: Timpani Concerto for Female Timpanist
Stravinsky, Symphonies of Wind Instruments
Gershwin (arr. Mari van Gils), An American in Paris


Adventurous virtuoso trombonist, conductor and composer, Christian Lindberg is a man of many musical parts. On this welcome visit to Cardiff his instrumental abilities were not on display, his trombone notable by its absence, but there were plenty of other brass instruments on hand instead! Lindberg is the RWCMD Jane Hodge International Chair of Brass and was made an honorary fellow of the College in 2011. This concert, amongst other things, demonstrated what excellent students he had to work with and how well they had responded to being conducted by him.

The first half of the evening was made up of two of Lindberg’s own compositions. His Concerto for Winds and Percussion was written to a commission by the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles, is dedicated to the Swedish Wind Ensemble and was premiered by them in 2003. It makes considerable technical demands on a number of players, and the way in which the RWCMD’s Wind Orchestra coped with these demands was impressive. The concerto draws on or alludes to many different idioms of writing for winds, from the wind serenade to film music, from brass band to big band and much more. It is by turns raucous and tender, or insinuatingly witty. The whole is unpretentious and accessible for all its occasional intricacy and, played with panache, it was thoroughly enjoyable.

The second piece by Lindberg was the most fascinating part of the concert. Octavia was written for Viviana Mologni, principal timpanist with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Guiseppe Verdi, whose work Lindberg had admired when conducting the orchestra in 2000. As Viviana Mologni is also an amateur soprano, Lindberg took the opportunity to use her vocal abilities as well as her instrumental skills. It was a delight to have her in Wales to perform the work. Octavia is a kind of dramatic monologue (with a short Italian text by Lindberg – at least I presume it is his work) in which the feelings of Octavia, sister of the Emperor Augustus, and betrayed wife of Mark Antony are explored. Her observations on her contemporaries and the direction of Roman society are imaginatively reported (Il tempo verrà in cui tutti si comporteranno come le scimmie – the time will come when every one will behave like monkeys – declares the text at one point). The whole makes for a powerful and, at times witty, piece. The writing for the soloist is virtuosic and Viviana Mologni executed it dazzlingly. With a face microphone her delivery of the text was always clear and audible. The reluctant fragmentation with which the names of the Egyptian Queen and her lover were uttered – Cle-O-Pa-Tra – Mar-Cus-An-Ton-I-O – contrasted beautifully with the volubility of much of the verbal delivery, as though the names were dragged from her mouth painfully, and was very effective. The pretended interruption which involved the soloist answering a mobile phone was both amusing and a witty way of suggesting the universality of Octavia’s situation. The fluctuating intensity and complexity of rhythm (Mologni’s work being complemented by that of two other percussionists) gave forceful expression to a range of moods and attitudes – fear and thwarted love, jealousy and compassionate observation, dignity and contempt – as did the scoring for the other instruments. Given that there can’t be a plethora of virtuoso timpanists with decent soprano voices, one was left wondering how well the piece might work with the role of Octavia shared between two performers? Something would, inevitably, be lost – but this striking and intelligent work should surely be heard more often?

We were on more familiar territory in the second half of the concert. Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments was given an assured performance. There was a delightful acidity in the opening phrases, balanced with a pleasant mellowness of tone in what immediately followed. The work’s contrasts of tempo and dynamics, and alternations of spare and rich textures were all very decently handled. Just occasionally the performance fell short of the kind of expressive nuances that the very finest professional readings of the work possess and there was a degree of tentativeness to the closing cadence – but these were the only points at which one was reminded that this was, after all, a student orchestra (and what a good one!). Mari van Gils’ arrangement for Concert Band of Gershwin’s 1928 score An American in Paris made for a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion, conducted and played with disciplined gusto in a vivid, fresh performance, full of snappy rhythms, some excellent solo trumpet work and an all-embracing vivacity. The students making up the orchestra must surely have learned a great deal from the experiencing of working with so consummate a musician as Christian Lindberg; he seemed properly impressed by the quality of their work and they were warm in their applause of him at the end of the concert. An entertaining and enlivening evening. Perhaps next time Christian Lindberg’s trombone might put in an appearance?

Glyn Pursglove