Hannu Lintu / Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Kaija Saariaho: True Fire; Trans; Ciel d'hiver

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The music of composer Kaija Saariaho features beautiful orchestration with fine detail that, whether it has a text or not, lies on the line between the spiritual and an orientation toward the natural world. If anyone has the right to claim descent from Sibelius, it is she, but her music in not in any sense late Romantic; it has a pristine, new quality. This excellent release from conductor Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra could serve as an introduction for those new to Saariaho's music, for Lintu gets the precise quality that's necessary to bring the listener into her small but seemingly vast worlds. Listening to these works has something of the quality of entering one of the "Infinity Rooms" constructed by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Sample Ciel d'hiver (Winter Sky, 2013), an arrangement of a movement from a larger work. Here, Saariaho depicts the constellation Orion, as a small melody is passed around among various instruments in the manner of stars crossing the sky. Saariaho moves in more explicitly spiritual directions with the orchestral song cycle True Fire, setting texts (in English) by Emerson, Seamus Heaney, Tewa oral tradition, and Mahmoud Darwish. The gentle voice of baritone Gerald Finley is ideal for this work. She moves more toward abstract classical form with the fabulous harp concerto Trans for harp and orchestra (2015). The title "Trans" refers to the idea of transition, and indeed the shifting relationship between the solo harp of Xavier de Maistre and the orchestra in this work is absolutely entrancing. Superb sound from the Helsinki Music Centre catches all the detail and rounds out a very exciting release.

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