Anu Komsi Sings Lindberg’s “Accused”

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LINDBERG: Accused. 2 Episodes / Anu Komsi, sop; Finnish Radio Symphony Orch.; Hannu Lintu, cond / Ondine ODE 1345-2

Since this CD came to me via a download which did not include the booklet, all I have to go on are descriptions of this piece, one from an online source and the other from the Naxos B2B website. This is what I learned:

Accused (2014) is Lindberg’s first work written for a solo voice and orchestra. The work was jointly commissioned by the London Philharmonic, Radio France, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra and Carnegie Hall. The work was premiered in London in January 2015. Lindberg chose extracts from actual interrogations in three historically and politically different situations: from the French Revolution, an extract from East Germany’ Stasi archives, and part of the Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning interrogation. Accused reflects universal human values that transcend transitory politics.

The text of these questions grow in number from section to section just as they and the answers grow shorter and less meaningful; the solo soprano takes the roles of both accuser and accused. The larger spans of Accused, 34 minutes in length, are articulated by a fanfare-like figure adapted from Falla’s El amor brujo (for reasons unexplained in the program note). The immediate richness of the scoring, especially the baleful nature of the brass-writing, suggests that Lindberg’s approach will indeed be an essentially dramatic one, but very soon the sung text and the orchestral texture seem to proceed independently of each other, the soprano’s leaping twelve-tone lines at odds with the dark and glittering generosity of the orchestral writing – and not always audible above it, either.

So I have no idea was to what Lindberg’s viewpoint of the Bradley/Chelsea Manning case is, but since Manning was sentenced to jail for her crimes there is no question that she was guilty and not an innocent victim. Compared to much contemporary music nowadays, the score is surprisingly lush, even a bit Romantic in nature though the harmonic base is modernistic in a style similar to that of Darius Milhaud. Since the text is in French and German and I have no booklet, I can’t tell you the exact words being sung, which is a shame because, in addition to having a superb voice, Komsi articulates her diction clearly—except for the third section, sung in what I suppose is her attempt at English. Lindberg uses frequently changing meter and rhythms to propel his score, with the vocal line staying, surprisingly, within a fairly narrow range of notes and sounding somewhat serrated (e.g., the notes jumping up and down thirds and fourths) while the orchestral accompaniment is sweeping and much more legato in feel. As the piece develops, however, the vocal line becomes more complex, the intervals being spaced wider and wider apart, almost approaching Schoenbergian proportions while the orchestral accompaniment becomes even more agitated.

If Lindberg’s portrayal of Manning is sympathetic, this of course mitigates against the music as a work of art, since works of art should never be specifically political; Beethoven’s Fidelio is as far as one should go, and in that case we assume that Florestan is an innocent political victim of Pizarro not only because Leonore risks her life to save him but because Don Fernando says so at the end of the opera. A piece of human scum like Chelsea Manning should never, ever be portrayed as a victim  because she clearly was not.

Fortunately, there is no such onus attached to the 2 Episodes for orchestra. These are remarkable and colorful pieces, well written and emotionally moving, but at times somewhat predictable in their musical progression. In brief: the music is good, the politics of Part 3 of Accused are not.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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