Tarja / Tarja Turunen

Ave Maria en Plein Air

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There's a lot to be said for this debut classical release by the Finnish vocalist Tarja Turunen, the classically trained, former lead singer for the enormously successful Finnish metal band Nightwish. The Ave Maria (Hail Mary) was a central idea in Romantic vocal music (some might say Romantic kitsch, but the point is still valid), and Turunen offers a good mix of familiar works, like the Bach-Gounod item, with the likes of a lovely setting by the Czech composer David Popper. The placement of the limpid Ave Maria by Paolo Tosti, the Belle Epoque's great composer of light melodies, at the beginning of the program as a kind of clarion call is very effective. And the arrangements, featuring organ, harp, and cello, are ideally suited to the stunning space in which the music was recorded: the Lakeuden Risti Church designed by architect Alvar Aalto with sonic splendor in mind. The music is performed on the church's own organ, and those with equipment to make it happen have some house-shaking joys to look forward to. The overall sonic environment is spectacular, and the one weak point in the whole edifice is Turunen's voice, which, as someone once said, ranges all the way from A to B. It just never shifts much in timbre. You may not care if you come to this music as a fan of Turunen, but know that there's more to soprano singing than this. An interesting experiment that someone else ought to pick up and run with.

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