Christian Lindberg with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall, 24 October 2014
Festooned in an impressively iridescent black shirt, complete with sassy skinny jeans, acclaimed trombonist, Christian Lindberg, takes to the conductor’s podium with delightful energy. The baton rises, and the musical odyssey into the world of ‘quirky brilliance’ begins. Sibelius’s ‘Intermezzo’ from the Karelia Suite (1893) forms the appetizer for tonight’s concert.
Shimmering strings engage in tentative dialogue with muted brass, before erupting into a triumphant, toe-tapping marching tune. Lindberg’s choice of tempo here is well judged. He wrings out every ounce of dynamic tension from the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra with an impressive contrast of swells and decrescendos. The melancholic mood of the following ‘Ballade’ is artfully captured in the opening clarinets and bassoons, as they announce a charming, yet pensive, melody in the strings. Lindberg’s control of the soundscape here is impressive. Each phrase is etched across his physique. The music dissolves into near nothingness, before the luscious melody of the strings returns to eclipse the impending darkness. A guiding light appears in the specter of a sweet cor anglais melody, masterfully played by Deborah Clifford, over arpeggiated cellos and steadying double basses. The work concludes with a jaunting rendition of ‘Alla marcia’, bringing the piece to its rousing finale.
After some well-deserved applause, Lindberg departs the stage leaving the orchestra to reassemble for the next work. The strings section turn their backs on the auditorium, with the rest of the ensemble filling in ahead of them. Percussionists take their position at the front beneath a small podium. The back wall holds the brass players. Lindberg returns, this time sporting a silver shirt, and assumes his new place in the heart of the orchestra. With trombone in hand, he launches into his own exciting composition, Helikon Wasp. Written in 2003, this is the work’s Irish premiere. Lindberg’s role here is uniquely multifarious. He wavers between soloist, conductor, vocalist and librettist with amusing panache. The piece is a performative tour de force with brass players using their mouthpieces as separate instruments to convey the zany world of the wasp, and various members of the orchestra bellowing out words from the poem (Glenn Miller style), upon which the music is set. The overall effect is wholeheartedly entertaining and refreshingly exciting. Lindberg’s virtuosic playing is impeccable. The audience’s response is electric.
With yet another costume change, to the shade of claret, Lindberg eases us into the dark realms of Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony (1888). Each movement is delivered with style, intelligence and sensitivity. Here, Lindberg is at his finest. He resists the urge to over-dramatise the sweeping melodies of the woodwind and strings, choosing instead to emphasise the commanding essence of the brass within the overall orchestral palate. The balance of tone is stunning. Tempos are exceedingly well calculated. Undoubtedly, Lindberg is one of the few conductors who truly grasps the music of Tchaikovsky. The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra’s delivery of his vision is outstanding. This night of ‘quirky brilliance’ has been a resounding success.
Sibelius: Karelia Suite, Op. 11
Lindberg: Helikon Wasp
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64