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Kaija Saariaho: D'om Le Vrai Sens; Laterna Magica

Saariaho / Finnish Radio Sym Orch / Oramo
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Ondine   Catalog #: 1173   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Kari KriikkuAnu Komsi
Conductor:  Sakari Oramo
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SAARIAHO Clarinet Concerto, “D’Om le vrai sens.” Laterna Magica. Leino Songs Sakari Oramo, cond; Finnish RSO; Kari Kriikku, (cl); Anu Komsi (s) ONDINE 1173-2 (67:31 Text and Translation)

Over the years my admiration for Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952) has only grown. From early in her career she’s had an identifiable voice, one that comes from the intersection of a certain Nordic directness with a very French taste for refinement of timbre and texture Read more (she’s Finnish, but worked at IRCAM and has lived for decades in Paris). The result is music that pleases on multiple levels: It’s highly lyrical, explores new sonorities with experimental rigor, and is never afraid of sensuality.

The three works on this program (basically hot off the press) all partake of the above-described aesthetic. The Clarinet Concerto (2010) is a suite of six movements inspired by the famous medieval “Unicorn” tapestries at the Cluny Museum in Paris, which in turn represent the senses (the final movement evokes a culminatory “sixth sense”). It’s truly haunting, in that the clarinet often uses noise and multiphonics (though always scrupulously) to suggest a sort of ghost-like keening and shrieking. Saariaho is very much in the spectralist school, which develops its harmonic practice from precise analysis of sounds in their microscopic realm, and from their correspondence to the overtone series. As a result, even her most dissonant sound masses have a spaciousness that always sounds natural and open, and that’s the case throughout this piece.

Laterna Magica (2008) is a tone poem evoking the life and work of film director Ingmar Bergman, though it never falls into any film-music cliché. It has an interesting dialectic between rich clouds of sound and more rhythmically pulsating textures (film threading through a projector’s sprockets?), and a passage where the orchestral players whisper various words (in German) relating to light is particularly striking. It falls a little more into what feel to me certain standard gestures and sonorities of this style and era, but it remains consistently appealing and mysterious. And the 2007 Leino Songs are four settings from one of Finland’s greatest poets, Eino Leino (1878–1926). This is technically the most conservative work, in that the voice is used for a traditionally beautiful melody; the instruments provide an aura about it that sometimes is more distorted, but never at the expense of the vocal line’s beauty. All this is not a surprise, since the composer has established one of the few successful track records for innovative and beautiful opera.

All these are exceptional performances, but by now would we expect less from anything coming out of Finland, perhaps the world’s most advanced musical culture (at least for what we call “classical”)? If you’ve not heard Saariaho before, this is an excellent introduction.

FANFARE: Robert Carl


Susanna Välimäki’s booklet notes sum up the music of Kaija Saariaho remarkably succinctly: “Saariaho may be regarded as a philosophical composer of mysteries … her music seems to suggest an invisible yet tangible ‘other world’ that can be sensed in the translucent sonorities, echoes, overtones, harmonics, shadow tones and reflections of her music ... [It] conjures up a sense of infinite space and multimodality.” The colours of the orchestration in a work like the Clarinet Concerto are almost as elusive as the tonalities and harmonic language used, but at the same time the ear is granted access into a world which is infinitely fascinating - subsumed at times with an icy northern chill, but also irrigated by the magnetic shifting patterns of an aurora borealis.

As the subtitle suggests, the Clarinet Concerto “D’OM LE VRAI SENS” refers to the human senses, each inspired by the panels of a medieval tapestry called The Lady and the Unicorn. These physical aspects are suggested with instrumental symbolism and meditations rather than literal descriptive elements easily divined by an audience, but the atmosphere of mystic other-worldliness brings us into a state of wonder which can perhaps be interpreted as comparable with that of the medieval lay person confronted by inexplicable worlds beyond experience, expressed by an almost equally inexplicable miracle of craftsmanship in the tapestries. Kari Kriikku’s remarkable clarinet playing is a real treat in this work, sometimes imitating animal sounds, at times sounding like declamatory speech, and always filled with drama and intensity which equals that conjured by the entire orchestra.

Laterna Magica is titled after the memoirs of film director Ingmar Bergman, and refers to the earliest of image projectors, the magic lantern. This transfers into music in a series of ‘mirages in sound‘, creating spaces into which the imagination can project its own images. This again is more than a merely literal conjuring and teasing of our pictorial senses, and the mystic symbolism of passing time and the universal questions of existence are powerful elements in the score. Machine-like noises and quasi-spoken whisperings express the intangibility of images which seem real, and challenge perceptions of permanency and reality.

The Leino Songs use poems by Eino Leino, considered one of the most important of all Finnish poets. Reading the texts in the booklet, and it is immediately apparent as to why these texts would appeal to Saariaho, as their themes and content can easily be interpreted as expressing the very essence of her compositions. Beautifully sung by Anu Komsi, each song is compact, the words used directly and without distortion of the original poem. Each song creates its own world, reflecting the themes of love and violence, fragrant serenity and death.

This is a superbly produced recording from the Ondine label, which has been championing Saariaho’s music for some time now. Justly celebrated as one of the leading composers of our time, this varied and deeply fascinating programme is as good a place as any to become acquainted with her remarkable universe of expressive sonority and mystical depth. This isn’t Bach or Beethoven of course, but neither is it work which will turn you off with impenetrable intellectual challenges. The deeper you look the more you can reveal, but what you find is more often one or other revelation about yourself as much as an understanding of music which is of its very nature a kind of tuning fork held up to the harmonies and dissonances of existence.

-- Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Clarinet "D'om Le Vrai Sens" by Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Kari Kriikku (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Sakari Oramo
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2010 
Laterna magica by Kaija Saariaho
Conductor:  Sakari Oramo
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2008 
Leino Songs by Kaija Saariaho
Performer:  Anu Komsi (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sakari Oramo
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2007 

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