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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Esa-Pekka SALONEN (b. 1958)
LA Variations (1996/7)
Five Images after Sappho (1999)≤
Giro (1981, rev. 1997)
Mania (2000/1)≤
Gambit (1998)

Dawn Upshaw (soprano); Anssi Karttunen (cello); Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; London Sinfonietta≤; Esa-Pekka Salonen
Recorded: Royce Hall, Los Angeles, January 2000; Air Studios, London, June 2000 (Five Images) and Henry Wood Hall, London, December 2000 (Mania)
SONY SK 89158 [75:13]


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Salonenís brilliantly successful conducting career has somewhat overshadowed his composing activities. The present release, mostly of recent pieces, helps put the balance straight, as did an earlier FINLANDIA disc some time ago (FINLANDIA 4509-95607-2 released in 1994). Salonen is first and foremost a composer of no mean achievement. His earlier works, with the exception of his brilliant Saxophone Concerto, completed in 1981, and revised in 1983, were generally short chamber pieces. However, over the last years, Salonen has regularly composed for orchestra with magnificent results.

LA Variations, completed in 1997, is Salonenís most substantial work so far. It is brilliantly scored for full orchestra and moves along with seemingly effortless invention and imagination. Salonenís orchestral mastery is evident throughout.

In complete contrast, Five Images after Sappho (1999) for soprano and ensemble is a most beautiful song cycle, delicately and subtly scored for small orchestra, of which the music possesses some Ravel-like transparency. The piece is a setting of several fragments from Sappho tracing a womanís life from her birth to her wedding, alternating moments of joy or grief, exaltation or reverie. A minor masterpiece of ravishing beauty.

Giro was completed as far back as 1981, put aside after a couple of performances and rewritten in 1997. The rewriting cannot completely conceal the nature of the earlier material and, as a result, the sound world of the piece is harsher and more stringent than Salonenís more recent music. Nevertheless Giro is a quite impressive piece on its own right that needs Ė and vastly repays Ė repeated hearings.

Mania, completed in 2001, is another example of Salonenís beautifully crafted music. This is a real tour de force in instrumental velocity, though the composer allows the cello to be its own self and indulge in long lyrical lines. The whole leaves a clear impression of supreme mastery.

Gambit (1998) was written as a birthday present to the composerís friend and colleague Magnus Lindberg. It is a short, overtly celebratory piece, brilliantly scored and deftly written throughout. It may be slightly more superficial than the other pieces recorded here but it provides for a joyfully uplifting conclusion to this most welcome release that offers a fine survey of Salonenís recent achievement as a composer.

Everyone here sings and plays with assurance, commitment, dedication and obvious enjoyment. Warmly recommended for Salonen is a fine composer of whom we may hope to hear more soon.

Hubert Culot


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