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Notes on Light / Orion / Mirage

3.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 9, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Soprano Karita Mattila and female composer Kaija Saariaho share not only popular star status in the classical musical world but also a fruitful musical collaboration and friendship. Their latest is Mirage, the setting of a tranceinduced incantation text by the Mexican healer María Sabína (1894-1985). This recording features the work's world premiere performance in Paris on March 13, 2008. The ecstatic 15-minute piece is written for the unique combination of soprano, cello and orchestra, featuring cellist Anssi Karttunen and the Orchestre de Paris under its music director Christoph Eschenbach. "Few singers other than Mattila will be able to hurl the voice into such high ecstasy, bend its tones and express the entire transformation in such racked yet exultant body language. (...) this is a small but important work in Saariaho's increasingly fruitful development."--The Times Anssi Karttunen performs also in Notes on Light, a cello concerto which Saariaho wrote for him in 2006. The CD also includes Orion, the largest orchestral work Saariaho has written to date.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 9, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Ondine
  • ASIN: B001DZDTXG
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #259,708 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
The three recent Kaija Saariaho compositions found here were recorded live in Paris in March, 2008 to open the Festival 100% Finlande. Christoph Eschenbach leads the Orchestre de Paris in fine performances of a cello concerto, an orchestral work, and a vocal work featuring soprano, cello and orchestra.

To my ear, Saariaho, who as a younger composer reflected radical influences including her teacher Gerard Grisey as well as Ligeti and even Xenakis, is moving ever more firmly toward Debussy. She has always pursued an ethereal timbre and texture, incorporating electronics from her studies at IRCAM, and her music once evoked the Northern Lights. But after living in France since the 1980s, she seems to have absorbed a more full-bodied, lusher aesthetic, appropriately conveyed by the Parisian orchestra.

"Notes on Light" (2006 -- 27'31") is outstanding. Written for and performed by Anssi Karttunen, Saariaho's favorite cellist, it moves through five movements (Translucent, secret; On fire; Awakening; Eclipse; Heart of light), and showcases the mysterious and enchanting style Saariaho has become known for. It is an altogether worthy successor to her violin concerto "Graal Theatre" and the cello concerto "Amers," both heard on the 2001 Sony disc featuring Gidon Kremer and Anssi Karttunen. This is the first recording of "Notes on Light."

I don't find "Orion" (2002 -- 21'58") nearly as satisfying. This is the second recording, following the 2005 debut by the BBC Symphony Orchestra's live recording at the Proms. It seems that Saariaho has some difficulty with large-scale structure without the solo line of a concerto to provide the forward impetus.
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I've been hearing Kaija Saariaho's name for a few years now, but my first hearing of her music was only a few months ago. It was a piece for cello and electronics: an indulgent, almost onanistic, celebration of trills, scrapes and harmonics. Any composer can write a stinker or two (try Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory" if you don't believe me), so it was only fair to try again.

I have listened to all the pieces on this CD several times, and each hearing is less satisfactory than the last. It is music of moods (almost entirely forlorn), and at that I suppose it succeeds. What it cannot do is convey any sense of development or direction. In part, Saariaho is hamstrung by her own orchestration. It is viscous, almost always near a full tutti, never exploring the hundreds of smaller groupings that a good orchestrator can find within the orchestra. The only dramatic options are to play louder or faster. Any moment within these pieces is attractive, but the cumulative effect is wearisome.

"Notes on Light", the first piece, might be better-named "Notes on Darkness". There are many unexplored possibilities, most of which have been bypassed in favor of monochrome. "Orion" is a little more successful, but that may be because its first movement is essentially a rewrite of the opening of "Rite of Spring, Part 2". I find it hard to believe that this is inadvertent, but it is unmentioned in any program notes I can find. It even ends with a four-note ostinato that recalls "Dance of the Adolescents" from the Rite. The final movement tries to create more motion and energy, but is again mired in lugubrious orchestration.

A nice vocal performance by Karita Mattila goes to waste in "Mirage".
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Format: Audio CD
This Ondine disc, released in late 2008, features three works by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho for performers especially dear to her. The Orchestre de Paris and Christoph Eschenbach have championed Finnish music. The cellist Anssi Kartunnen is an old school chum of Saariaho's from the Sibelius Academy and the dedicatee of all her cello works. Karita Mattila was the dedicatee of a major Saariaho work for soprano and orchestra ("Quatre instants", though more often heard in its soprano and piano arrangement).

"Notes on Light" (2007) is a concerto for cello and orchestra. I heard this work at its European premiere in Helsinki and was left very underwhelmed. While the titles of its five movements are evocative--"Translucent, secret", "Awakening", "Eclipse" and "Heart of Light"--there's no clear arc and we hear just generic Saariaho noodling. I was also appalled to hear something resembling the late work of Einojuhani Rautavaara. Hearing Rautavaara-like stylings in this composer's work is a bit like finding out that an artist you revere likes to touch little kids. "Notes on Light" is vastly inferior to Saariaho's first cello concerto "Amers" written in 1993. That was an exhilirating extravaganza for cello, chamber orchestra and electronics, where the cello was outfitted with a special microphone that could capture each string separately. With a piece like "Notes on Light", Saariaho might succeed in at least not offending conservative audiences, but the more Finnish composers limit their range like this, the less chance they have of writing something original and memorable, and something that compares well to the fiery music of their youth. Indeed, the reception of the concerto at its European premiere in Helsinki seemed quite meh.
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