- Leino Songs, for voice & orchestra
- Laterna Magica, for orchestra
- D'om le vrai sens, clarinet concerto
Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho continues to produce music with a sonic sensuality that's never less than gripping. She is a masterful orchestrator and her work vibrates with fascinating colors and textures that demand attention. Her pieces tend to have a tone of evanescent mystery, and that's the prevailing mood of the three orchestral works that are given their premiere recording on this 2011 Ondine release. They are loosely programmatic in that their titles make specific artistic or literary allusions that give listeners a frame of reference for understanding her intentions. Saariaho's music uses a full range of contemporary techniques (with a special affinity for French spectralism), but its focused expressiveness gives it a powerfully direct emotional impact. The 2010 "Clarinet Concerto, D'om le vrai sense," was inspired by the familiar Medieval tapestry series The Lady and the Unicorn. Kari Kriikku plays the daunting solo part with assurance and full command of a range of extended instrumental techniques. Listeners who are put off by the squeaks and yawps that can characterize amateur clarinet playing should be advised that the piece uses the instrument in a number of non-lyrical ways, and even though the playing is virtuosically purposeful and artful, for those listeners this may not be the ideal starting point for exploring Saariaho. "Laterna Magica" is based on Ingmar Bergman's memoir of the same name and includes extended sections in which players whisper his phrases describing the quality of light over an incandescent orchestral murmur. The four "Leino Songs" showcase the composer's gift for writing graceful, lyrical vocal lines, and soprano Anu Komsi sings with clarity and warmth and with a strong sense of drama. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra plays with clarity and understanding under Sakari Oramo. Ondine's sound is clean, detailed, and present.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is an album of challenging music. But if you're up to that challenge, you'll find your listening experience deeply rewarding. Kaija Saariaho is concerned with the nature of sound, and the major work on this release, her clarinet concerto, shows it. The work was written in consultation with clarinetist Kari Krikku, and really pushes the limits of the instrument. Krikku plays in the extreme high and low ranges of the clarinet, and even uses multiphonics in a sections. But it's not just to show off his extraordinary skill -- there's an artistic reason behind it all. The concerto is a journey through the senses, as depicted in a series of medieval tapestries. with a movement each devoted to hearing, sight, smell, touch, taste, and finally, the "sixth sense" titled "to my only desire." That final movement pulls the disparate parts of the work together in a transfiguring fashion that (as you can tell) is very difficult to describe. Also included in this album is the short work Laterna Magica. It draws inspiration from the early form of slide projector, called the magic lantern. Vague clouds of sound emulate soft-focus images cast on walls, moving, combining -- and sometimes interacting in a work that's both ethereal and deeply moving. Leino Songs is a set of orchestral songs, based on the writings of Eino Leino, one of Finland's greatest poets. Saariaho looks to the inherent drama of the text to shape the musical structure, as instruments clash and withdraw. Tying the composition together is the soprano voice. Soloist Anu Komsi worked with Saariaho on this composition, so the music lays very well for her. Saariaho doesn't write pretty music - but she does write vital music. You might not be able to whistle the themes, but the raw emotion Saariaho lays down on manuscript paper is powerful indeed. This is the music of contemplation and thought, and reaps additional insights with repeated listening.
This CD is just called 'Saariaho' which goes to show the kind of rock-star status she has in the 'new music' world. There are a lot of reasons for this but first the musical ones; she is an amazing orchestrator, her scores being a cornucopia of simultaneous delicate and complex textures. She is intensely musical, creating very convincing musical gestures in a style where often there is not a lot of strong musical direction. The other reason for her success is historical/political, in that she is the perfect amalgamation of two quasi warring camps -the serial/post serialists occupied by Boulez, Stockhausen, and universities worldwide on one side and the other side consisting of eastern Europe texturalists- Xenakis, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Pendereski and the spectral composers. There's a 3rd link I hear, especially in the first piece on this CD -I sometimes feel the pandiatonation of serialist pitch organization making it sound like Xenakis or Ligeti orchestrated Part or Gorecki. Given her musical achievement of synthesizing all these warring camps, she is now the poster child of the aging, modernists ethos -A composer who offends no one and makes her supporters feel a little less dated and not so much at the end of a music cycle. Having said that, these reasons for her success should in no way distract from the prodigiousness of her talent or the assuredly of her musicality. The first piece on the CD is a Clarinet Concerto (2010) played by Kari Krikki and is easily my favorite work. This is mostly because the writing and playing of the clarinet is phenomenal and also provide a strong foreground to the intricate background textures. The insane fingered glisses, really effective multiphonics, wild vibratos, the harshest of flutter tonguing and immense octave transpositions really bring this piece alive with an almost barbaric quality of yelping, growling and walling animals. Whoever thought extended technique was aesthetically dead has to hear this piece. The music itself is full of space and this attribute is probably Saariaho's greatest gift. All her sonic inventions have lots of time to breath and there is enough space to hear the dovetailing of other textures behind. The harmonic language is primitive quasi-tonality, organized around a few tonicizing pitches which the clarinet reinforces. Often it seems like the orchestra itself is spewing out of the clarinet mimicing its' wild, ecstatic gestures. Finally the player, Mr. Krikki deserves the Finnish medal of honor for his fingered glisses alone. They are perfection, along with the most crazy-ass, accurate and expressive playing I've ever heard on the clarinet. A real genius The second piece is 'Laterna Magica (2008) and is played by the Finnish Radio Orchestra. This was my least favorite in that there were too many post-serialist clichés poking through the otherwise gorgeous textures. There were lots of long, complex sus chords that eventually gliss or single pitch, sustain, arpeggiated stabs that sounded a lot like a B-movie suspense soundtrack. The piece gradually introduces more recognizable, less abstracted passages with pulse or march undercurrents-not unlike Mahler or Schittke. These clearer passages gradually became longer, some of them beautifully integrated with the abstract writing (a la Debussy). The final piece is the charming 'Leino Songs' (2007) sung by Anu Komsi with orchestra. The melodic writing returned to the tonal writing of the first piece --circli