Markku Luolajan-Mikkola

Gamba Nova: Contemporary Music for Baroque Instruments and Voices

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Gamba Nova: Contemporary Music for Baroque Instruments and Voices Review

by Stephen Eddins

Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, a bass gamba soloist and member of Phantasm, a Gramophone Award-winning gamba consort, has a special interest in contemporary music for his instrument and has commissioned or premiered a number of new works. This CD gathers five of those works by four Finnish composers. The pieces are not consistent in their merit, but the best are so excellent that they make this a CD that should have an appeal for broad audiences. Lotta Wennäkoski's earlier music had largely been notable for its chaste stillness, but Procris, from 2003, is an active, sometimes boisterous, setting of three poems for high soprano and gamba. Part of the work's appeal comes from the astonishing performance by Piia Komsi, whose brilliant aerial acrobatics, always executed with full, shining, focused tone, make her a coloratura to watch out for. Harry Vuori's From Day to Dream, a setting of five Shakespeare sonnets, receives a very fine performance by Luolajan-Mikkola and tenor Heikki Kulo, but its angular modernism fails to make a strong impression. Jukka Tiensuu is the most internationally visible composer represented on the disc, and it's easy to see why: each of the five movements of his 30-minute Musica ambigua, for recorder (and/or flute), violin, bass gamba, and harpsichord is a delight, a marvel of sparkling inventiveness, unpredictable textures, and a sly humor that sometimes veers into unhinged wackiness. This is a work that should draw listeners back for multiple hearings; by itself it's worth the price of admission. The two pieces by Eero Hämeenniemi for gambas and harpsichord aren't quite in the same league, but they are utterly engaging on their own, more modest terms. Alba's sound is clean and nicely balanced.

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