Tuesday, March 5, 2024

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Kaija Saariaho’s Final Choral Works Might Be The COVID-Period Masterpiece


Kaija Saariaho (Photo: Andrew Campbell)
Kaija Saariaho (Photograph: Andrew Campbell)

Kaija Saariaho: Reconnaissance (Bis)

★★★★☆

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Two weeks after the composer’s demise, an album has been rush-released of her little-known choral music, a few of it as charming as any you’ll hear all summer season. Saariaho is famed mainly for her stark operas and complicated orchestral textures. She admits within the album notes to a lifelong inclination to write down for choirs and, on this intriguing assortment, she does so in her personal inimitable means.

Finnish born however by no means cowed by Sibelius’s shadow, Saariaho studied with the European avant-garde and located her voice whereas tinkering with early computer systems in Pierre Boulez’s Ircam laboratory in Paris. Her opening observe, Nuits, adieux, employs the reside electronics that Boulez pioneered in Répons, with out in his case totally integrating them. What Saariaho creates is a private soundscape of shrieks, heavy respiration, love-play, church acoustics, plinks and plods, voiced by simply 4 singers and reside electronics. It’s one thing else altogethner — and, if the electronics trouble you, there’s another bare model on this assortment for 4 singers and full choir.

In 4 premiere recordings sung by the Helsinki Chamber Choir and their director Nils Schweckendiek, there’s a typical Saariaho fixation with textual content, albeit in fragmentary type, phrases of French, English, Latin and German punctuating the soundscape, reminiscent at occasions of Messiaen and Ligeti. The title observe proclaims an supposed ambiguity. In English, ‘reconnaissance’ means a army manoeuvre to survey of enemy territory. In French, it implies a reacquaintance with one thing, normally oneself.

There’s a magical introspection to this piece, as if encompassing the composer’s complete life and all its pursuits, from medieval madrigals to house exploration. Percussion and double bass add dimensions of doom and disturbance. The latest of her choral works it could come as near a masterpiece as something written throughout COVID.

“Such was our ultimate revolution,” it concludes. However nothing ever ends and Saariaho’s music will lengthy endure.

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