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Posted April 11, 2012
The nice thing about listening to a bunch of works by the same composer in quick succession is that I get a glimpse of the broader picture.
This new four-disc set of Kaija Saariaho presents the Finnish composer's orchestral works spanning the past 25 years. The pieces are arranged in chronological order, and Ondine's assigned a theme to each disc, which helps the listener make sense of Saariaho's development.
Saariaho's earliest orchestral works show her slowly breaking away from the rigidity of atonal composition and into a more emotional world of sound clouds and atmospheric orchestration.
Some composers treat the human voice as something unique -- others as just another instrument. Saariaho seems to use it as a way to more fully articulate the emotional content of her music. The expressiveness of the vocal lines leave no doubt as to the emotions driving the music.
The latest works in the set, all written after 2001, show a composer in full command of her talent. These compositions have more of tonal feel to them, but only up to a point. Saariaho is still primarily concerned with communicating emotion, and if the most effective way to do it is with a more traditional sound (at least temporarily), then so be it.
As I listened to this compilation, the words I kept jotting down were "mysterious," "atmospheric," and "ethereal." Those terms, I think, apply to the entire collection. This set is a great way to become acquainted with a major voice of contemporary music.