United Kingdom Lindberg, Schumann, Stravinsky, Albéniz, Mussorgsky: Christian Lindberg (trombone), Roland Pöntinen (piano), Cheltenham Music Festival, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 8.7.2016. (RJ)
Christian Lindberg: Black Hawk Eagle for trombone and piano (premiere)
Stravinsky: Three Movements from The Firebird 1874 (arr. Lindberg and Pöntinen)
Albéniz: El Abaicin from Iberia
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (arr. Lindberg and Pöntinen)
How is it possible for Sweden’s two leading musicians to be so different and yet so similar? Pianist Roland Pöntinen arrives on the platform with measured step looking as if he is about to perform Chopin’s Funeral March, while his colleague Christian Lindberg bounds on to the stage in the manner of a pop star, his face creased with smiles. But when it comes to making music you cannot get a cigarette paper between them.
Their recital opened with the premiere of Lindberg’s Black Hawk Eagle using music from the Golden Eagle Concerto he composed in 2015 for the Taipei Symphony Orchestra. In the work he pushes back the boundaries of trombone technique demonstrating the remarkable versatility of the instrument. The wotk starts with a rousing fanfare and after a robust contribution from the piano the music becomes gentler and more melodious before the rhythmic turbulence returns. A quieter interlude reveals the gentler, more intimate character of the trombone before both instruments gain speed to provide a rollicking conclusion with a rhythmically exciting contribution from the piano and some remarkable sustained notes on the brass instrument. This is a demanding, yet entertaining, piece which will present an undoubted challenge to competitors for the International Aeolus Solo Competition later this year in Düsseldorf.
Schumann’s Fantasiestücke were originally conceived for piano and clarinet, but alternative versions for violin and cello were also sanctioned. Little did I expect to hear these instruments replaced by a trombone, but the combination worked wonderfully well, with Christian Lindberg at his most expressive in the first of the pieces, becoming livelier in the second and unleashing plenty of fiery passion in the third.
The fiery energy continued in a setting of the Danse infernale from Stravinsky’s Firebird in which the audience was treated to a searing, high octane performance which pulsated with energy. The Berceuse revealed what soothing and beguiling tones Lindberg could coax out of his chosen instrument, while the finale wove a magical spell with the piano especially offering a shimmering frisson before both instruments geared up to a triumphant close.
Roland Pöntinen was given a brief opportunity to demonstrate his considerable talents as a soloist in Albéniz’ El Abaicin, named after the gypsy quarter of Granada. This was a flamboyant performance full of complex dance rhythms in which the infectious patterns of flamenco guitar playing alternated with a cante jondo (deep song) to thrilling effect.
Pictures at an Exhibition has been performed in a multiplicity of versions over the years, notably Ravel’s popular orchestration. Lindberg and Pöntinen’s clever arrangement brought a new dimension to the work with some inspired settings, such as the Market at Limoges, which captured so vividly the bustling atmosphere of the places. Lindberg switched frequently between tenor and bass trombone, the latter enabling him to produce some deep sonorous notes in the Catacombs section, while Baba Yaga was a terrifying experience in this instrumental combination. Also extremely effective was the finale with the trombone blaring out the theme against the resonant church bells of Kiev on piano.
Christian Lindberg has been dubbed “the greatest brass player in history” and at this morning concert the hype seemed well deserved. Certainly I have rarely encountered a brass musician with such energy and stamina. But that in no way diminishes Roland Pöntinen’s contribution. Together they are a class act, and I left the concert hall in a mood of exhilaration.
The recital was recorded by the BBC and will be broadcast on Radio 3 in August.