Christian Lindberg and the RLPO seemed to have enormous fun in this exciting programme featuring the world premiere of his intriguing Robot Gardens, flanked by works by Bernstein and Nielsen.

Christian Lindberg © Mats Bäcker
Christian Lindberg
© Mats Bäcker
Bernstein’s score for the gritty 1954 film On the Waterfront, one of his few efforts in the genre, captures a great deal of the human struggle and violence of the drama. So too did Lindberg and the orchestra, who produced some explosive outbursts of sound, led by the enormous rhythmic drive of the two timpanists and large battery of percussion. Carl Raven’s saxophone solos and Timothy Jackson’s horn produced some touching passages of contrast; each of the latter’s appearances came with great assurance and clear tone even high in the range. After some fierce battles, Lindberg carefully engineered a heroic rise from the brutality of the suite to a stirring conclusion.

The Swedish trombonist/composer/conductor writes in his strikingly honest programme notes that his inspiration for Robot Gardens lay in reflections on his youth in the family gardens, placing it in the context of life in modern, urban Stockholm. The twenty-two minute, six-movement work for woodwind, brass and percussion was huge fun and very enthusiastically received by the audience. Having just heard music by Bernstein, much of the score seemed to nod to the great American. Again, significant contributions were made by the percussion section, while the woodwind and brass produced rich, full-bodied playing. After slipping in and out of tonality through the work, it closed in a blaze of valediction and light.

So too did Carl Nielsen’s fifth symphony, after a performance of thrilling vivacity and, at times, disturbing violence. Nielsen wrote the symphony in the early 1920s, recording a far more bleak observation on life than he did in his wholly more optimistic fourth symphony, written during the First World War. The first movement features one of the most famous side drum solos in the repertoire, perhaps after Shostakovich and Ravel, with the player instructed to improvise aggressively in an effort to derail the music. Scott Lumsdaine’s solo tonight grew out of the repeated seven-note figure into a wild blitz before being swallowed up into the orchestra. Lindberg coordinated this passage, and indeed the whole symphony, with great sensitivity to the music’s shape, making for a very satisfying sense of structure. Elsewhere the woodwind soloists made sterling contributions and the strings marched along with admirable incisive crispness.

The second half of the symphony makes high demands on all corners of the orchestra through some intricate fugal writing. Lingberg’s direction facilitated playing of thrilling intensity and clarity of texture. Benjamin Mellefont’s clarinet solos were played with virtuosic gusto as the orchestra charged through the thicket of the music, before a breathless flute halted the mad scramble. The subsequent elegy for strings found some painfully moving moments before the final pages of the symphony eventually found dazzling light at the end of the tunnel. Lindberg, by now on his third brightly coloured shirt of the night, jogged back to the stage several times to receive a very positive reaction from the audience.