Seekers after extreme landscapes and rugged coastlines are well provided for in Scandinavia – as they are in its music. On his new album, Sebastian Manz engages with the clarinet concertos of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen and Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg. Both are well known for their elemental, abstract sound stuctures, summoning up the natural world of their homelands for listeners as if painting in sound.
We are soon drawn under the spell of the Scandinavian landscape: mountains and lakes, waterfalls, fjords and forests, long summer nights under the open sky. It can scarcely come as a surprise that the great composers of the Nordic lands – such as Edvard Grieg in Norway or Jean Sibelius in Finland – called upon music to portray nature. Contemporary composers may be less inclined to take refuge in the fields and woods, and yet the Clarinet Concerto of Magnus Lindberg, born in Helsinki in 1958, is pervaded by the spirit of Nature. Lindberg, described by The Times as one of the most important voices among 21st-century composers, took the podium in person to conduct this recording. Sebastian Manz took the opportunity to discuss details of the work with the composer and thereby refine his playing. The cadenza in the second half of the Clarinet Concerto offers him as the soloist the scope to indulge in a new, personal style and manner of interpretation.
Carl Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto of 1928 gives Manz a coupling with another solo concerto from the Nordic nations, one that clarinettists consider to be part of their core repertoire. Nielsen’s tonal language can be described as a mixture of folk culture, courage to experiment and a return to older music traditions. Shot through with changes of mood and sharp contrasts, the work is not only breathtaking but places high demands on the exponent’s technique. The work’s spontaneous, eruptive outbursts represent a polar opposite to the sounds of the natural world that otherwise characterize the piece, recalling the screech of railway-carriage wheels and the roar of the city. This impressive work is conducted by Dominik Beykirch, acknowledged to be one of the outstanding new-generation composers of recent years.
These two clarinet concertos are complemented on the album by a chamber work of Carl Nielsen’s. Sebastian Manz chose the Serenata in vano, a “serenade in vain”, as a charming work from Nielsen’s pen. The composer wrote the piece in 1914 for a concert tour of Denmark, before turning to larger, more important projects. The first thing that captures the attention in the quintet is the unusual scoring, determined by the musicians who were on tour: clarinet, bassoon, horn, cello and double bass. The result is a darkly nuanced timbre in which the clarinet, as the highest-pitched instrument, takes the lead.
Sebastian Manz has joined forces with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie of Saarbrücken and Kaiserslautern to present three works that spirit us away into Nordic landscapes and paint pictures in sound despite all their musical complexity. Essential listening, not just for devotees of highbrow music!