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Kaija SAARIAHO (b. 1952)
Mirage (2007)a [15:16]
Cloud Trio (2009)b [16:12]
Cendres (1998)c [9:57]
Je sens un deuxième coeur (2003)d [19:07]
Serenatas (2008)e [16:03]
Pia Freund (soprano)a; Ernst Kovacic (violin)b; Steven Dann (viola)bd; Mikael Elasvuo (alto flute)c;
Florent Jodelet (percussion)e; Tuija Hakkila (piano)acde; Ansi Karttunen (cello)a-e
rec. Järvenpää Hall, 14 March 2011 (Mirage, Cendres) and Helsinki Music Centre, 24-26 November 2011 (other works)
ONDINE ODE 1189-2 [77:25]

Ondine has already recorded a good deal of Saariaho's orchestral music as well as works for ensemble. These various discs were first released separately and later re-issued in a boxed set. In the meantime another disc with orchestral works was released more recently still (ODE 1173-2) and reviewed here. Now Ondine sets forth with a disc devoted to some of her chamber music and in particular to her five trios for various combinations. The connecting element is the cello which is present in all five of them. Moreover all but one of these trios are fairly recent since they were composed between 2003 and 2009, the exception being the somewhat earlier Cendres for alto flute, cello and piano composed in 1998. Incidentally this work is the only one that has been recorded earlier on Kairos 0012414KAI. All the others are first recordings. 

As already mentioned Cendres was composed in 1998 using some material from … à la fumée (1990) for alto flute, cello and orchestra. It is in no way a chamber arrangement of that work. As Kimmo Korhonen rightly states in his well-informed insert notes, this is definitely a new work based on existing material. This is not unusual in Saariaho's music: she fairly often uses or “recycles” material from other works of hers. The music often makes use of more or less advanced techniques such as key clicks and breathing noises in the flute part and some playing inside the piano but never extravagantly. The ultimate aim of Saariaho's music is to achieved expression and sonic refinement. Indeed from early on in her career she succeeded in using “noised sounds” very often as a springboard for further flights of fancy. 

exists in two versions composed simultaneously: an orchestral one (Ondine ODE 1130-2) and a chamber version for soprano, cello and piano recorded here. The piece is based on fragments of spells uttered in a trance by a Mexican shaman, Maria Sabina. The roughly ritualistic character of these words obviously appealed to Saariaho, allowing her to indulge her imaginative sound-world. To be quite frank, I thought, having heard the orchestral version, that the so-called chamber version could be a disappointment but I am glad to say that I have been proved completely wrong. I should not have had qualms about the composer's remarkable imagination. In the orchestral version both soprano and cello play as soloists in what amounts to a double concerto where the trio version has them engaging in a chamber-music dialogue with the piano. I eventually found the chamber version as satisfying as the orchestral one and I would not want to be without it. 

Cloud Trio
for string trio is probably the one work here that comes as close as possible to a normal trio setting. That said, there is nothing overtly traditional in the music. The piece is said to have been inspired by ever-changing clouds observed in the French Alps although; clouds have often been a source of inspiration to composers. The work falls into four movements of which the outer ones are rather on the slow and meditative side whereas the inner ones are more animated and at times quite troubled. As a whole this is quite satisfying, again full of imaginative string writing. It’s a successful mix of 'noised sounds' and normal sounds that without being in any way descriptive suggest both the rugged mountainous landscapes and the sometimes unpredictable gliding of cloud formations. I sometimes felt that the music called for a larger ensemble and I would not be surprised if Saariaho was to make a version for string orchestra ’ere too long. 

Je sens un deuxième coeur
for the somewhat darker piano trio setting of viola, cello and piano was written when the composer was working on her opera Adriana Mater. In fact, the title of the piece is a quote from that work. The five movements more or less relate to the opera. It is interesting to know that Saariaho originally planned to create portraits of the four characters in the opera but eventually abandoned the idea on musical grounds. Although the music is still fairly abstract, its character and different moods are clearly related to the context of the opera: war in the former Yugoslavia. It is a really beautiful work in which the composer allows her inborn lyricism to speak in utter freedom. I would not hesitate inviting you to listen to this wonderful piece first, especially if you are not all that familiar with Saariaho's strongly personal sound-world. 

The final work here is again structured as a suite of sorts with the slight difference being that the five movements may be played in any order. For myself, I cannot imagine them being played in a different order from the one applied here. As such the lay-out in this recording makes for a logical narration, from a delicate opening to a mysterious conclusion. It may be interesting to know that some of the material is derived from both Mirage and the cello concerto Notes on Light (2006). As with Cendres, you have to be a Saariaho expert to spot this. This work shows the composer at her most engaging. 

Over the years there have been some ground-breaking works. I would just mention Verblendungen (1982/4) for orchestra and tape and Lichtbogen (1985/6) for ensemble and tape. These put her firmly on the map. Since then Saariaho has ceaselessly refined and enlarged her instrumental and expressive palette. This has included spectral harmonies and other techniques. She is now well and truly master of her aims and means. Her music has acquired a remarkable subtlety and sonic refinement that is her trademark. 

These performances by musicians having a close working association with the composer are ideal. They are also superbly served by Ondine's beautiful recording. Full marks, too, for Kimmo Korhonen's excellent insert notes. This well-filled release is an important addition to Saariaho's ever-growing discography and a must for all devotees of her music. 

Hubert Culot