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Saariaho: Graal Théâter / Solar / Lichtbogen

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 24, 2002
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Editorial Reviews


Product Details

  • Performer: John Storgårds
  • Orchestra: Avanti! Chamber Orchestra
  • Conductor: Hannu Lintu
  • Composer: Kaija Saariaho
  • Audio CD (September 24, 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Ondine
  • ASIN: B000069KMS
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,115 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Elegant and unorthodox, organic and uncanny, the music of Kaija Saariaho has an alien beauty that isn't compromised one iota by its resolute modernism. "Graal Theatre", for violin and chamber orchestra, is a luxuriously writhing soundscape, where the impassioned violin part has its great swoops punctuated by splashes of orchestral color. The violin here is much more up front than in the full orchestral version, which is available on Sony Classical's excellent "Chateau De L'Ame" disc of the composer's works (see my review). "Solar" inhabits a similar soundworld. Rather than complementing and dialectically engaging with a soloist, the orchestral layers and clusters of resosnant sound are free to blossom into a lush ambient hazes and florid tangles. Tempo and density vary unpredictably, but these shifts never seem random or arbitrary. These changes are written with subtelty and a balance that seems improbable, in this context. But Saariaho pulls it off. As with Debussy, her music can seem decorative and unrigorous at first. But like the impressionist master, whose lineage (in one of its tributaries) culminates in her Spectralist mentors, Saariaho lets the indistinct quality of much of her material influence the progression of its form. "Lichtbogen", the closing piece, is a compelling demonstration of this talent. Nine musicians, and their live electronic transformations of various sorts, weave a delicate study in tone and texture, with vibrating events rising from crystalline, sustained tones and electronic washes. As with all of Saariaho's work, this is highly original music.
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Format: Audio CD
This is a fantastic collection of Kaija Saariaho. The featured work is a violin concerto, "Graal theatre," with John Storgards on violin. This is a chamber orchestra arrangement -- the piece was originally composed for full orchestra in 1994, a commission from the BBC, and was premiered at the Proms in London in 1995. The original version has been recorded by Gidon Kremer, with Salonen conducting. On this Ondine disc, the music is performed by the Finnish Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, with Hannu Lintu conducting.

"Graal theatre" is the most conventionally beautiful, lyrical piece I have yet heard by Saariaho. "Graal" means that which is innermost and holiest, while "theatre" indicates that which is extroverted and performing -- the enchanting, elusive quality of the music apparently expresses this contradiction. The other two pieces work backward in time, with "Solar" composed in 1993, and "Lichtbogen," featuring live electronics, composed in 1986, one of Saariaho's early works. They are both wondrous, lovely pieces. Working backwards, the music seems to become structurally simpler, more static, purer, as if dissolving into light. I use the metaphor advisedly, as "Lichtbogen" was inspired by the Northern lights, the aurora borealis.

Alongside "du cristal .. a la fumee," also on Ondine (see my 11/7/02 review), this recording adds to Saariaho's stature as one of the finest of contemporary composers.
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Format: Audio CD
This 2002 Ondine disc contains three pieces by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, whose falling in with the spectralist school in the early 1980s led to a long obsession with timbre as the ultimate component of music. Hannu Lintu leads the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, with a spotlight on violinist John Storgards.

"Graal Theatre", a violin concerto dedicated to Gidon Kremer, stands on the threshold of a new interest in somewhat more conventional writing. While the orchestral writing is concerned mainly with timbre, the soloist's material is often melodic. The work was originally written in 1994 for symphony orchestra, and a recording of this version with Kremer performing can be found on a Sony disc. The version here is a 1997 arrangement for chamber orchestra, which maintains the solo part unchanged but gives a more intimate feel to the work by reducing the remaining instrumentation. All in all, I like the version for full orchestra better, as it features more impressive use of percussion and it is the original version whose recording gives us the powerful work of Gidon Kremer. John Storgards just doesn't excite me as much here. However, when it comes to examining certain details of the original version, this pared-down chamber arrangement is a useful tool.

"Solar" (1993), a composition for a chamber ensemble of twelve players, takes its title from the "heliocentric" nature of its harmonies: the writing forces a harmonic progression towards a fixed point as if by gravitational attraction. This is a less dramatic work than "Graal Theatre", featuring fewer ups-and-downs and staying rather sunny and busy in the first half and restrained in the second. However, it better showcases the obsession with colour of spectralist composers like Saariaho.
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Saariaho: Graal Théâter / Solar / Lichtbogen
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