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Kaija SAARIAHO (b.1952)
Let the wind speak
Tocar for flute and harp (2010) [7.22]
Mirrors I for flute and cello [3.29]
Colours du vent for solo alto flute (1998) [9.01]
Mirrors II [3.27]
Oi Kuu for flute and cello (1990/3) [6.41]
Mirrors III (1997) [3.40]
Sombre I-III for flute and ensemble (2012) [20.40]
Dolce tormento for solo piccolo (20014) [6.31]
Laconisme de l’aile for solo flute (1982) [8.52]
Camilla Hoitenga (flutes)
Anssi Karttunen (cello); Daniel Belcher (baritone); Héloïse Dautry (harp); Da Camera of Houston
rec. 24 February 2013, 28 October 2013, 21 October, 4 December 2014, Deutschandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany
ONDINE ODE1276-2 [71.04]

It all started in 1982 when the young and little known Kaija Saariaho gave a handwritten score of Laconisme de l’aile (possibly translated as ‘Concision of the Wing’) to flautist Camilla Hoitenga. The composer was already moving towards developing her interest in flute technique in a way we discover in each of these pieces. She draws on multiphonics, blowing into the head joint, playing more across it, quarter tones, slides, percussive sounds and singing or speaking as part of the performance or whilst playing. This 1982 work has a French text (a poem called ‘Oiseaux’ by Saint-John Perse; see also Saariaho's Aile du Songe). Before and near the end this extends mainly to phonemes – the use of words which sound almost identical but have different meanings: La mort/L’amour. We are going to meet these sounds regularly throughout the disc.

As indeed in the three pieces entitled Mirrors for flute and cello scattered randomly around the CD. Actually this is rather a cute idea. The original three and a half minute piece was put onto a CD-ROM and is in 48 segments. Within certain guidelines anyone can re-order these segments to make their own piece. So we have here, the original (1) later a variant by the cellist Anssi Karttunen (2) and a third, with its dramatic ending, by Hoitenga herself (3). I first heard all three, one after the other, so that I could try to follow the use of the material but this is not a rewardingly musical experience. My next encounter was separately after one of the other pieces. Even so the musical value of the enterprise seems highly suspect and limited.

By 1993 Hoitenga felt that Saariaho had not written enough flute music so she set about arranging Oi Kuu (O Moon) originally for cello and clarinet but now for flute and cello. This inhabits an extraordinarily unpeopled tundra landscape. It is deeply impressive and just the right length. One might form an impression that more than two musicians are involved so full, rich and uniquely varied the sound-world.

So idiomatic sounding is Tocar for flute and harp that it is incredible to discover that it has been very carefully adapted from an original for violin and piano by the composer and performer. A composer can’t go wrong with this classic combo. The CD opens with this magical piece and, vibrating with inner life, it certainly helps lead the listener into what follows.

The longest piece here is Sombre I-III being scored for bass flute, baritone, double bass, harp and percussion. It was to receive its first performance in the ‘Rothko Chapel’ in Houston, which was completed in 1971. The composer says that she had felt “close to his (Rothko’s) work for a long time”. The ‘chapel’ has several panels each coloured in what my uneducated eye thinks of as a purply-black. When I saw them in 1988 it was raining heavily and there was little light, all adding to the ‘sombre’ nature of, what has to be admitted, was a spiritual experience. In addition Saariaho has set three “heart-breaking” texts by Ezra Pound - Cantos; fragments of great simplicity and loss. It’s the second one, which includes the line ‘Let the wind speak’ that gives the CD its title. Daniel Belcher sings and projects beautifully yet the work appears to me rather mannered and restrictive. It’s not really adequate to say that that is what the Rothko experience is all about. There should be a greater sense of searching and indeed strength. The experience of hearing this work was tepid and claustrophobic. The text is supplied in the booklet.

The idea of speaking poetry into the instrument comes to a head with Dolce tormento for solo piccolo in which a Petrarch Sonnet is discovered hiding behind the wind and whistles of the instrument as in Laconisme de l'aile mentioned above. The effect is mannered and stylised and I fear mostly uninteresting. Repeated hearings were alas, no help. Whereas, Colours du vent for solo alto flute has enough musical interest in its material to keep the listener alert for its nine-minute course.

Throughout the CD there is a truly astonishingly display of virtuosity especially in the way Hoitenga melds the voice to the instrument. The supporting cast of musicians are also outstanding in their understanding and reinforcement of the project and of the recording. The booklet essay takes the form of a conversation between performer and composer and has been sensibly translated.
Gary Higginson



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