Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Kaija SAARIAHO (b. 1952)
Graal Théâtre (1995)
Château de l’Ame (1996)²
Amers (1992)³
Gidon Kremer (violin); Dawn Upshaw (soprano)²; Anssi Karttunen (cello)³; BBC Symphony Orchestra; members of the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra²; Avanti! Chamber Orchestra³; Esa-Pekka Salonen
Recorded: Maida Vale Studio 1, London, June 1996 (Graal Théâtre); Hall of Culture, Helsinki, June 2000 (Château de l’Ame) and Recording Studio, Finnish Broadcasting Corporation, Helsinki, June 1998 (Amers)
SONY SK 60817 [71:31]

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So far Kaija Saariaho has been known for a number of chamber works for ensemble, small and large, characterised by a sharp ear for arresting sonorities, and her deft use of electronics in one form or another. These skills she uses with much subtlety, refinement and great poetical insight. Her works are recognised above all for her convincing way of combining her techniques to reveal her highly personal vision, often influenced by nature. This is certainly the case in Lichtbogen (1985/6) – one of her most successful pieces so far – and also in Nymphea (1987) for string quartet and electronics.

In its own way, Saariaho’s music, for all its uncompromising ruggedness, is impressionistic. The most remarkable characteristic of her music is that all the techniques on which she relies, including electronics and "spectral" harmonies, are exclusively used for expression’s sake. Her first large-scale orchestral piece Verblendungen (1982/4), a rather abstract piece as a whole, also impresses by the sheer weight of the massive magma waves she generates. This powerful piece led to the masterly diptych Du cristal... (1989/90) and ...à la fumée (1990), the latter featuring amplified cello and alto flute. By that time Saariaho had become master of her trade and fully equipped to undertake highly varied enterprises of which the high water mark so far is her opera L’Amour de Loin completed in 1997.

This generous release usefully couples a comparatively early piece with two recent ones written in the wake of the opera. Amers (1992) for cello and ensemble still clearly belongs to Saariaho’s earlier years in its uncompromising single-mindedness. The composer tells Martin Anderson that the piece focuses heavily on colour rather than line. Some "spectral" techniques enhance the timbral aspect of the music, particularly in the taxing cello part. She imagined a boat trip through often agitated waters ("amers" is the French for "sea-marks"). So the music moves on restlessly, almost recklessly, with unflagging energy. A tough nut to crack but one well worth cracking.

Graal Théâtre for violin and orchestra is a quite different proposition. The title comes from a book by Jacques Roubaud; Graal implying some sort of quest reflected in the music of the first part whereas théâtre rather refers to conflict, opposition and clash between antagonistic forces. The dual title is reflected in the bipartite structure of the piece. The opening movement Delicato opens mysteriously, with delicate textures sustaining the violin’s incantations. The second movement Impetuoso is more nervous, brimming with energy and full of conflicting ideas. A beautiful work superbly played by Gidon Kremer for whom it was written.

Château de l’Ame, completed in 1996, clearly belongs to the same world as the opera and it is a wonderful example of Saariaho’s lyricism. This beautiful piece, one of Saariaho’s finest works so far, is her most poetical and subtle work. Scored for soprano, small chorus and orchestra, it sets several ancient texts (in French translation) about different aspects of Love (unfortunately the texts are not printed in the insert notes) and brims with delicate orchestral textures far removed from those of Saariaho’s earlier, harsher works. A wonderful, lyrical piece of great beauty and refinement.

All the performers here have a long association with Saariaho’s music and it receives superb, warmly recorded performances. This release is a wonderful tribute to this most distinguished composer whose superbly crafted music, even at its most demanding, is capable of deeply-felt emotions. Unreservedly recommended.

Hubert Culot

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