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S & H Recital Review

Mozart, Brahms, Kuula, Debussy Soile Isokoski (soprano); Marita Viitasalo (piano). Wigmore Hall, 1pm, Monday, March 1st, 2004 (CC)


Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski left me cold on the very first concert I ever reviewed for Seen & Heard, in September 1999. It was interesting, therefore, to encounter her again, now several times over more famous. On that earlier occasion she sang Richard Strauss (as she did here, too, but as a small encore). She has a name for herself in Mozart, though, and it was three songs by this composer that started the recital (not four, as the programme notes stated – presumably because of the type-setting of the programme on the reverse of that sheet.)

In fact, the first song (just to add to the confusion) is not by Mozart at all, but by Josef Myslivecek. Ridente la calma is an arrangement of an operatic aria (Il caro mio bene), but comes with a Köchel number of K15/K210a. A workaday account of the piano part was balanced by some truly lovely slurs by Isokoski. The dramatic scena, Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte, K520, suffered by the pianist’s literalism, while Isokoski’s fast vibrato became positively distracting in the final song of the group, Dans une bois solitaire, K308. Beginning with three songs in three different languages (none of which is your own) is brave, and it was perhaps a pity that French, the language of the final song, appears to be Isokoski’s weakest. ‘C’était’ became ‘Si était’; ‘Je’ became more ‘Ge’.

Four Brahms Lieder fared better, although Isokoski’s quick vibrato was beginning to irritate. The dark ‘Liebestreu’, Op. 3 No. 1 (‘True love’) had the advantage of some focussed piano playing while the second offering, ‘Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht’ showed that the questionable pronunciations of earlier in the recital may have been just nerves (or maybe Isokoski is just happier in German). Just one word fell at the hurdle – ‘Wonne’ became more ‘Wonner’ in ‘Meine liebe ist grün’, Op. 63 No. 5. The penultimate song, ‘Das Mädchen spricht’, was probably the most successful, flighty with a real element of wit.

Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) is one of those composers who died too young. He was killed in a shooting accident at the tender age of 34. The romantic Jääkukkia, Op. 24 No. 2 (1913, ‘Frost flowers’), despite its dark exterior still showed signs of folk-inflection. Isokoski dealt with the high-lying line well. Sinipiika, Op. 23 No. 1 (1912, ‘Wood sprite’) was curious mix of tender melancholy coupled with suicidal tendencies while Marjatan laulu (‘Marjatta’s Song’) was a mesmeric, dark lullaby. Finally, Purjein kuutamolla Op. 31a No.1 (‘Sailing in the moonlight’, 1917) included some glassily limpid piano playing.

Debussy’s infinitely beautiful Ariettes oubliées (1885-87) rounded off the recital. If there was almost immediately a pronunciational quibble (‘extazzze’ for ‘extase’), it did seem that here was where Isokoski’s voice finally found a comfortable niche. This was of particular note in the second song, ‘Il pleure dans mon coeur’ (‘Tears fall in my heart’) where Isokoski, instead of disturbing the delicate piano part, floated exquisitely on top of it. It was not quite a moment of magic, more a run-up to it – and it came in the third song, ‘L’ombre des arbres’ (‘The shadow of trees’), with a floated high note in the penultimate line. An exciting climax to ‘Chevaux de bois’ (‘Merry-go-round’) did not quite erase the niggling feeling that Isokoski’s voice should have a greater repertoire of shades to it. ‘Spleen’ emerged as really quite modern in feel, yet again that vibrato became off-putting.

An encore of Richard Straussian simplicity, ‘Ich trage meine Minne’, Op. 32 No. 1, provided a lovely conclusion to a recital of decidedly mixed impressions.

Colin Clarke




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