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Saariaho: Notes On Light, Orion, Mirage / Mattila, Karttunen, Eschenbach

Release Date: 09/09/2008 
Label:  Ondine   Catalog #: 11302   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Anssi KarttunenKarita Mattila
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

A likely masterpiece from Finland joins new music from scintillating Saariaho

Kaija Saariaho is the Finnish composer, alongside Magnus Lindberg, who most excites me at present. Like her fellow countryman, she finds textures that feel absolutely fresh, vibrant and full of colour. Her journeys of imagination here are gripping. And it’s good to see such high-profile performers in new music – perhaps especially the sublime Karita Mattila.

-- Gramophone [11/2008]

SAARIAHO Notes on Light.1 Orion. Mirage1,2 • Christopher Eschenbach, cond; Anssi Karttunen (vc);1 Karita Mattila (sop);2 O de Paris • ONDINE 1130 (63:22)
Read more /> Kaija Saariaho writes exciting music. At one time associated with the spectral school of composition, in which spectra, the harmonic fingerprints of sound, were used to generate new works, she’s been able to assimilate and then transcend such a purely analytical approach to arrive at her present individual, communicative language. In the past, she’s also broadened her palette with electronics. Her vivid music is characterized by an acute sense of color and texture, allied to a sure feeling for form and pacing. Melody, too, plays an important part. Although there are no big tunes to whistle, the musical flow can be lyrical, even rhapsodic. At times, an almost oriental melisma wafts through the music: at others, what I would call “proto-melodies” (four or five note phrases) accrete to form larger modules, most notably in Orion.

Notes on Light, Saariaho’s cello concerto, often projects a mysterious mood. Glissandos of varying lengths in cello and orchestra, and a line that sways and sighs as it evolves and devolves suggest a yearning, or questing aspiration. The evocative title comes from T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, and inspired Saariaho’s vision of the cello as a source of light. The energetic second movement stands apart from the rest, with swift, downward cascades in tuned percussion and flute mirrored by exuberant, upward-winging piccolo flurries. These effects, plus the churning cello, create a drive and momentum distinct from the slower, exploratory nature of the other four movements. That’s not to say that the rest of the concerto is placid, or without internal drama. Throughout, Saariaho skillfully deploys her “transparent” orchestra in often-delicate counterpoint to the soloist.

Orion finds Saariaho reveling in larger forces, with more brass (there are no trumpets and trombones in the concerto) and even organ: some of the climactic moments must be quite overwhelming in person. Unifying thematic elements link the three movements. A subtle pulse as Orion begins arrests the attention, drawing the listener into this “constellation” of sound. Gradually, ideas and images coalesce, until the orchestra achieves a monumental presence worthy of the young god. The volume waxes and wanes, but the overall impression is massive. The second movement’s texture is primarily diaphanous, although heavier “clouds” of sound arise before the ethereal conclusion. A piccolo plays a pastoral tune over a dreamily shimmering background, ushering in a violin solo that could be a distant cousin to Shéhérazade. This gives way to an exotic, sinuous clarinet and oboe, and so it goes, one colorful episode succeeding another. The third movement starts out like Notes on Light’s second, but becomes even more wild and tempestuous. Trumpets, swirling winds, and scintillating strings fluoresce, illuminating the orchestral landscape. The storm eventually subsides, its mass floating away, the last note struck by a single triangle.

Mirage is a passionate setting of the “song” of a Mexican woman, shaman, and healer who, in this ecstatic musical incarnation, affirms her being while summoning the forces that pass through her to effect her cures. Karita Mattila brings Saariaho’s hypnotic score to vibrant life, swooping and gliding effortlessly, imparting a palpable exaltation. From the first half-whispered “I am” one is swept up and riveted by this spellbinding performance. The cello is an equal partner in Mirage, probing at the opening, acquiring confidence, and increasing in strength until it joins with the voice in its voyage of discovery. The two dip and soar in tandem, although the melodic outline is not identical.

Mattila and Karttunen are superb musicians who are perfectly attuned to Saariaho’s style. Their long friendship with the composer guarantees informed, sympathetic performances, and it would be difficult to imagine better ones. Eschenbach and the orchestra support the soloists beautifully in Notes on Light and Mirage, and contribute stunning playing in Orion. Saariaho’s many admirers will enjoy these latest additions to her discography, while anyone who’s been afraid to dip a toe into contemporary waters should consider taking the plunge, for while undeniably “modern,” the music’s range of expression, melodic flexibility, invention, and pervasive color make it immediately accessible. While not neo-Romantic by any means, it’s nonetheless music that manifests beauty and feeling in every note.

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Works on This Recording

Mirage by Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Anssi Karttunen (Cello), Karita Mattila (Soprano)
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 13 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Notes on Light by Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Karita Mattila (Soprano), Anssi Karttunen (Cello)
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Orion by Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Anssi Karttunen (Cello)
Conductor:  Christoph Eschenbach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; France 

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