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Kaija SAARIAHO (b. 1952)
Clarinet Concerto “D’OM LE VRAI SENS” (2010) [31:01]
Laterna Magica (2008) [23:40]
Leino Songs (2007) [12:24]
Kari Kriikku (clarinet); Anu Komsi (soprano)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
rec. 7 January 2010, Sello Hall, Espoo (Leino Songs); 31 May-1 June 2010, Finlandia Hall, Helsinki (Laterna Magica); 18-20 April 2010, Kulttuuritalo, Helsinki (Clarinet Concerto)
ONDINE ODE 1173-2 [67:28]

Experience Classicsonline

Susanna Välimäki’s booklet notes sum up the music of Kaija Saariaho remarkably succinctly: “Saariaho may be regarded as a philosophical composer of mysteries … her music seems to suggest an invisible yet tangible ‘other world’ that can be sensed in the translucent sonorities, echoes, overtones, harmonics, shadow tones and reflections of her music ... [It] conjures up a sense of infinite space and multimodality.” The colours of the orchestration in a work like the Clarinet Concerto are almost as elusive as the tonalities and harmonic language used, but at the same time the ear is granted access into a world which is infinitely fascinating - subsumed at times with an icy northern chill, but also irrigated by the magnetic shifting patterns of an aurora borealis.

As the subtitle suggests, the Clarinet Concerto “D’OM LE VRAI SENS” refers to the human senses, each inspired by the panels of a medieval tapestry called The Lady and the Unicorn. These physical aspects are suggested with instrumental symbolism and meditations rather than literal descriptive elements easily divined by an audience, but the atmosphere of mystic other-worldliness brings us into a state of wonder which can perhaps be interpreted as comparable with that of the medieval lay person confronted by inexplicable worlds beyond experience, expressed by an almost equally inexplicable miracle of craftsmanship in the tapestries. Kari Kriikku’s remarkable clarinet playing is a real treat in this work, sometimes imitating animal sounds, at times sounding like declamatory speech, and always filled with drama and intensity which equals that conjured by the entire orchestra.

Laterna Magica is titled after the memoirs of film director Ingmar Bergman, and refers to the earliest of image projectors, the magic lantern. This transfers into music in a series of ‘mirages in sound‘, creating spaces into which the imagination can project its own images. This again is more than a merely literal conjuring and teasing of our pictorial senses, and the mystic symbolism of passing time and the universal questions of existence are powerful elements in the score. Machine-like noises and quasi-spoken whisperings express the intangibility of images which seem real, and challenge perceptions of permanency and reality.

The Leino Songs use poems by Eino Leino, considered one of the most important of all Finnish poets. Reading the texts in the booklet, and it is immediately apparent as to why these texts would appeal to Saariaho, as their themes and content can easily be interpreted as expressing the very essence of her compositions. Beautifully sung by Anu Komsi, each song is compact, the words used directly and without distortion of the original poem. Each song creates its own world, reflecting the themes of love and violence, fragrant serenity and death.

This is a superbly produced recording from the Ondine label, which has been championing Saariaho’s music for some time now. Justly celebrated as one of the leading composers of our time, this varied and deeply fascinating programme is as good a place as any to become acquainted with her remarkable universe of expressive sonority and mystical depth. This isn’t Bach or Beethoven of course, but neither is it work which will turn you off with impenetrable intellectual challenges. The deeper you look the more you can reveal, but what you find is more often one or other revelation about yourself as much as an understanding of music which is of its very nature a kind of tuning fork held up to the harmonies and dissonances of existence.

Dominy Clements