Reinhold GLIÈRE (1875 - 1956)
Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra in F minor, Op. 82 (1943) [14:11]
Ambroise THOMAS (1811 - 1896)
Scène et air d’Ophélie (Mad Scene from Hamlet, act V) [12:21]
Leo DELIBES (1836 - 1891)
Air des clochettes (The Bell Song from Lakmé, act II) [8:47]
Alexander ALYABYEV (1787 - 1851)
Solovei (The Nightingale) (orch. Eero Koskimies) [5:13]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Der Hölle Rache (Aria of the Queen of the Night from Die Zauberflöte, act II) [3:06]
John ZORN (b. 1953)
La Machine de l’être - a monodrama [11:36]:-
I. tetème [4:09]
II. le révelé [3:26]
III. entremêlés [4:00]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 - 1957)
Luonnotar, Op. 70 (1913) [9:09]
Anu Komsi (soprano)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
rec. September - October 2011, Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland
Texts with English translations enclosed
BIS BIS-SACD-1962 [66:27]
Just browse the header and you realize that this programme requires a soprano with exceptional technique, stamina, height and beauty of tone. Luonnotar and to some extent the Hamlet mad scene also need someone with text interpretative abilities. Where is the rare bird to accomplish all this? Anu Komsi, maybe? I knew her name and have seen some rave reviews but although a frequent visitor to Finland I have never heard her in the flesh - not so strange after all since she has probably been somewhere else in the world, having a busy international career.
The Glière concerto was a good starting point since it is wordless and one can concentrate on the voice alone. It is a large voice, not the nightingale kind like Erna Sack, Rita Streich or, nearer our own time, Sumi Jo. Komsi’s is more in the Cheryl Studer mould. The timbre is beautiful, she has a good trill and, when we reach the second movement of the concerto, her coloratura technique is plainly stunning with pinpoint articulation of the staccato notes.
When we come to the two famous French arias she also shows fine sensitivity to the texts. In Lakmé this is of less importance, everybody just waits for the bell imitation, which is almost in the Sutherland class, thought the final high note is somewhat pinched. As Ophelia in Hamlet she sings with obvious affection - she is mad but not insane, her madness is more civilized, if you see what I mean - and the Pale et blonde section is really beautifully conceived. This, by the way, is a Swedish folksong, which Thomas incorporated in the scene as a tribute to the first Ophelia, the Swedish soprano Kristina Nilsson. It wasn’t just a random tribute. The folksong is about Näcken, a water-sprite in old folklore, who entices people down into the water - that’s where Ophelia is going.
In Alyabyev’s The Nightingale, she lightens the voice further, while in Der Hölle Rache her power reserve makes her one of the most demonic and threatening Queens of the Night.
All this is very impressive, but is there a hang-up? I think so. Unless my ears deceive me she has a tendency to slide up to certain notes, leading to a feeling of unstable intonation. This occurs in several places in the Glière and it happens also occasionally in the Thomas and Delibes. Different listeners react differently to such imperfections and there is so much here that is terribly good.
The two final numbers stand out from the rest of the programme for several reasons. John Zorn’s monodrama La Machine de l’être in three movements, premiered as recently as March 2011 at New York City Opera, is wordless. Its title is from a drawing by French playwright Antonin Artaud, the creator of “Theatre of Cruelty”. With no words there is no plot and the story of this drama is in the voice; rather the exploration of the possibilities of the soprano voice in its extremes is the drama. It is a fascinating drama which gets its dénouement in an uproarious and daring final act, concluded with a horrible shriek. This isn’t music for the fainthearted but it is an impressive triumph for Anu Komsi’s fearless vocalism.
Even greater things will come. As far removed from superficial vocal display as possible is Sibelius’s Luonnotar. It is a symphonic poem for soprano and orchestra, dedicated to the great Finnish singer Aino Ackté, who also premiered the work at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester in September 1913. The text is from the first part of the Kalevala and is about the creation of the world. It is by many regarded as one of Sibelius’s best compositions but it is also a terribly challenging work for the soprano. The tessitura is high and takes her up to a C flat, there are difficult leaps and in the midst of all this she also has to negotiate the verbosity of the text. I have long admired Mari-Ann Häggander’s recording of the work (also on BIS), but here is a version that not only challenges it but even surpasses it. It is not just a question of technique but of interpretation: so many nuances, such depth of involvement.
Luonnotar is without doubt the musical masterwork here and Anu Komsi’s reading of it is alone worth the price of the disc. The Lahti Symphony Orchestra has for many years been one of the foremost orchestras in Europe. Sakari Oramo, Anu Komsi’s husband, gives idiomatic readings of all the music. In spite of my reservations there is a lot to admire on this disc.
Göran Forsling
There is a lot to admire on this disc. 
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