> Jaakko Mantyjarvi - Eclectica [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jaakko MÄNTYJÄRVI (b. 1963)

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi – Choral works
4 Shakespeare Songs: Come away, death; Lullaby; Double, double, toil and trouble; Full fathom five
El Hambo
More Shakespeare Songs: Fear no more; Over hill, over dale; Time; Who is Sylvia; A scurvy tune
Psalm 150 in Grandsire Triples
Canticum Calamatatis Maritimae
Psalm 150 in Kent Treble Bob Minor

Tapiola Chamber Choir, Sibelius Academy Chamber Orchestra/Hannu Norjanen, Emmiliiana Tikkala, piccolo
Recorded in Roihuvuori Church, Helsinki, and Olari Church, Espoo, 2001(?)
FINLANDIA 0927 41563 [69:09]

It’s very exciting when you come across a really talented new composer, one who has a distinctive voice and yet who can communicate strongly with the listener. This disc is a substantial achievement; witty, intriguing music, brilliant performances and perfect recording techniques.

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi is a 39-year-old Finn, who studied English and linguistics, and who has steadily been building an international reputation over the past ten years. His interest in things English is demonstrated by the Shakespeare settings here, and by his knowledge of bell-ringing which informs two of the pieces. His linguistic expertise is not so evident in the works themselves, but does make itself apparent in the composer’s hilarious booklet note on ‘El Hambo’.

In fact Mäntyjärvi’s infectious sense of humour comes over strongly throughout the disc. The opening number Pseudo-Yoik is based on the Lappish traditional vocal form the Yoik, and has a nonsense text made up by the composer. It’s a hilarious and bracing number, in which the choir produce an appropriately ‘earthy’ tone, complete with fortissimo choral grunts. The first set of Shakespeare settings that follow are more serious as well as perhaps more conventional. Yet how refreshing to find a contemporary composer shunning ‘gimmicks’ and concentrating instead on writing really idiomatic, singable music.

The aforementioned El Hambo is probably the most memorable number on the disc, with its stamping, clapping, grunting and cod Swedish accents. The next set of Shakespeare songs contain a solemnly beautiful setting of ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’ , and a delightful Scurvy Tune with a piccolo solo introduces the famous Hornpipe as well as references to Bach’s Brandenburg no.3.

But the most interesting and original numbers on this extraordinary issue are the two based on change-ringing. Both are settings of Psalm 150, Laudate Dominum; the first, Grandsire Triple, uses a descending scale whose variations are quoted fully in the booklet in musical notation. Kent Triple Bob is, if anything, even more delightful, with the individual notes of the scale split up between seven solo voices – quite a feat for these vocalists (entertainingly credited in the booklet as ‘bells’!), who acquit themselves superbly.

Canticum Calamatatis Maritimae is a haunting and rather moving short work based on the tragic shipwreck of the Estonia in September 1994. Murmuring choral voices set up a barely perceptible accompaniment to a soprano melody with a distinctly Celtic flavour – the parallels with the music for the film Titanic are quite striking here (though Mäntyjärvi got there first of course!)

The final item uses a small orchestra with striking economy and colourfulness in this tale of the Finnish shaman of folk-lore Kouta. Again, the choral writing is endlessly inventive, and the climax in which female voices represent Earth-Spirits and Mother Time, hovering over a tracery of instrumental sound, is memorably beautiful.

This is a truly outstanding disc; if you love choral singing, buy it - you’re in for a rare treat!

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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