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With the ongoing project to record Kaija Saariaho's music Ondine is pleased to announce a release of her chamber music works. Known for her skills in colorful orchestration, Saariaho manages to employ her palette in the service of chamber music as well, with impressive variety. Ondine has previously released the orchestral version of Mirage, this new recording marks the world premi+¨re of the trio version. All musicians on the recording have a long term devotion and experience of performing Saariaho's music.
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"Cendres" for flute, cello and piano (1998) is a compressed version of her massive orchestral diptych "Du cristal ...à la fumée" (hear it on an earlier Ondine CD). It begins with the pianist quietly playing an E flat directly on the strings, which the cellist picks it up with an E-flat trill sul ponticello that is the common opening of several works in this family. There follows a musical drama that focuses on timbre and the dissection of a single chord, but combines its rich textures with a sense of violence. The flautist speaks several times through his instrument, while the cellist's line varies between pure tones and the noise from excessive pressure on the strings. It's good stuff. "Cendres" has been recorded before by Champ d'Action on a Mode disc, but both recordings are strong.
"Je sens un deuxieme coeur" for piano, viola and cello (2003) is based on music from Saariaho's second opera "Adriana Mater", being something of a suite in five movements. As I write this, that opera has not yet been commercially recorded, and unless you're willing to track down a radio recording, this piece is the only place to hear some of its music. On one hand, this is an example of the ditch that Saariaho has written herself into, her post-spectralist stylings now overly polished and pretty. On the other hand, there are a few brutal moments -- the opera is about a woman raped during wartime, and that sense of conflict comes through in the music at times. "Je sens un deuxième coueur" has been recorded before on a digital-only DG Live release, and more recently on a Harmonia Mundi disc, but I can't say I prefer any one recording over the others.
"Mirage" for soprano, cello and piano (2007) is a reduced arrangement of a work for those two soloists and full orchestra (hear it on an earlier Ondine release). The piece sets a poem by Mexican folk healer Maria Sabina about mushroom hallucinations. Who expected Saariaho to write psychedelia? The soprano is dramatic, with loud outbursts, while the cello line is subtle, silky and mysterious. Unfortunately, this arrangement lacks the colour and sense of flux of the orchestral version, which suited the text. Pia Freud's performance holds its own against Karita Mattila, the dedicatee of the orchestral version.
"Serenatas" for percussion, cello and piano (2008) consists of five movements that can be played in any order. Here the musicians chose Delicato - Agitato - Dolce - Languido - Misterioso. Saariaho's writing for cello is typically sinuous and the pitched percussion something unusual. It does feel that the piano is too distantly miked, though.
The "Cloud Trio" for violin, viola and cello (2009) is based on the changing shape of clouds. This composer's music had been writing music of vague, slowly evolving textures for decades already, so you won't notice much difference from this new basis.
Saariaho's music of the 1980s and 1990s impressed me so much that I still loyally purchase Ondine collections whenever they come out, but I've been disappointed by her music of the last decade-plus. Some might argue that the composer has simply adopted a more audience-friendly idiom, but I disagree: her most powerful melodic writing came in the mid- to late-1990s, and recent works are more Debussyean studies in atmosphere than memorable tunes. With this kind of music, there's only so much the composer can do before she starts repeating herself, and in my opinion that point came already years ago.