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Kaija SAARIAHO (b. 1952)
Cendres (1998)a
Noa Noa (1992)b
Mirrors (1997 version)c
Spins and Spells (1996)d
Monkey Fingers, Velvet Hand (1991)e
Petals (1988)f
Mirrors (1998 version)g
Laconisme de l’aile (1982)h
Six Japanese Gardens (1993/5)i
Wolpe Trio (Lesley Olson, fluteabcg; Scott Roller, celloacdfg; Susanne Achilles, pianoae); Andreas Boettger (percussion and live electronics)i; Thomas Neuhaus (live electronics)bfh
rec. Sendesaal, Deutschland Radio, Funkhaus, Köln, May 2001
KAIROS 0012412KAI [72:12]
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From her early composing career, Kaija Saariaho has shown a real liking for and developed considerable expertise in blending electronics with live instruments. One of her early major achievements, Verblendungen (1982/4) is scored for orchestra and tape; but soon afterwards, as a result of her work at IRCAM in Paris, she progressively used more sophisticated electronic devices that have since been prominent in her music. Many of her works use one or other such device, as in Lichtbogen (1985/6) for ensemble and electronics, Io (1986/7) for ensemble, tape and electronics, Nymphea (1987) for string quartet and electronics as well as in her large-scale opera L’Amour de loin and in several chamber works. Indeed, most pieces in this release use electronics, in one way or another, but always in a tasteful and discrete way. She is one of the few composers who blend electronics and live instruments in an entirely satisfying and musically rewarding way - the other ones being, to my mind, Jonathan Harvey and York Höller.

The majority of the works recorded here was composed during the 1990s, while Laconisme de l’aile for flute and electronics ad libitum, completed in 1982, is the earliest of them all. (Incidentally, this piece and Verblendungen featured in the first all-Saariaho disc [BIS LP-307], since then re-issued in CD format.) This short piece also reflects Saariaho’s particular affinity for the flute that is present in most works here too. It is also a good example of Saariaho’s fanciful and imaginative tone painting. I use the term painting deliberately, because I feel that her music, no matter how complex it may be, is predominantly impressionistic, and is the kind of stuff that Debussy might have written, had he lived in our technologic times. To a certain extent, too, her music (and that of Harvey, for that matter) continues Varèse’s quest for an enlarged sound palette.

Petals (1988 – cello and electronics ad libitum) and Spins and Spells (1996 – solo cello, composed as a test piece for the 6th Rostropovich Competition in Paris) were written in close collaboration with Anssi Karttunen, who has also been closely associated with many modern Finnish pieces for cello, such as Saariaho’s Amers and Lindberg’s Cello Concerto. As most pieces here, with the notable exception of Six Japanese Gardens, these cello works are fairly short, but explore a huge range of expression and techniques to great effect in spite of their concision. There are also supreme examples of Saariaho’s acute ear for arresting sounds and textures, also to be heard in the flute trio Cendres (1998 – alto flute, cello and piano). Saariaho’s music often has an improvisatory character, although it is – most of the time – strictly written-out; but it nevertheless allows for some freedom on the players’ part. This is the case of Mirrors (1997 - flute and cello) in which fragments can be assembled in different ways while observing some prerequisite parameters. (As an illustration, two versions are heard here.)

The major work in this generous selection of chamber music by Saariaho is, no doubt, Six Japanese Gardens written in memory of Toru Takemitsu, in which she gives full rein to her delight in powerfully suggestive tone painting. Here, the tone colours of the percussion instruments are enriched by electronically processed nature sounds (such as wind, rain and water). This is an often impressive, atmospheric piece; and one of the finest examples of Saariaho’s own brand of Impressionism, and (no doubt about it) a major achievement in her present output.

What comes clearly through all these pieces is what the author of the insert notes, Gisela Gronemeyer, aptly describes as a "new sensuality" that finds expression in constantly varied and arresting textures, be it in Noa Noa (1992 – flute and electronics), Petals or Mirrors.

In fact, the short piano piece Monkey Fingers, Velvet Hand (a rarity in Saariaho’s present output) is quite unique in the global context of this release. A trifle, it may be; but, now, Saariaho is not one to write an indifferent note of music, so that the inclusion of this short, extrovert piece is a welcome surprise.

This very fine release offers a comprehensive survey of Saariaho’s varied and personal chamber music, and is a perfect complement to another similar disc released by Ondine several years ago (ODE 906-2) that besides Six Japanese Gardens and Noa Noa also includes Lonh (for soprano and electronics written for and performed by Dawn Upshaw) and another piece for cello and electronics Près. All these pieces get superb, immaculate readings from the members of the Wolpe Trio and from the percussionist Andreas Böttger; and are beautifully recorded. A real winner.

Hubert Culot


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