Kaija Saariaho: Du Cristal...À la Fumée; Sept Papillons, Nymphéa

Petri Alanko / Anssi Karttunen / Kronos Quartet / Esa-Pekka Salonen

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Kaija Saariaho: Du Cristal...À la Fumée; Sept Papillons, Nymphéa Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is represented on this disc with two large orchestral works, Du cristal (1989-1990) and ...à la fumée (1990); the string quartet Nymphéa (1987); and the Sept papillons (2000) for solo cello. The two orchestral pieces are sisters drawn out of a common pool of ideas, and Saariaho states that they are "a single work, two facets of the same image." ...à la fumée, however, contains solo parts for alto flute and cello. Saariaho has in her portfolio a year's work at IRCAM, and in ...à la fumée in particular her music sounds like that of an IRCAM composer -- overworked and over-busy. The note writer of this disc compares her music to that of György Ligeti, and draws an analogy to it utilizing a paraphrased statement attributed to Ligeti: "When we fly at high altitudes in a jet, we no longer have the sensation that we are moving. At the same time, the fine details of the landscape disappear, blending in to the larger entities." In addition to an affinity for Ligeti, Saariaho's music is likewise reminiscent of Edgard Varèse, but her textures are busier than either composer; a bit less like jet flight and more like driving through the desert in a jeep over rough and unfinished terrain scrutinizing cacti, animal bones, and tumbleweeds along the way. It can make for an interesting ride, but in all that heat and no shade, one can get pretty thirsty.

Nymphéa, performed here by the redoubtable Kronos Quartet, is a bit cooler than the orchestral music, particularly in its opening moments. But by its end the piece seems to lose focus and it's the opening that the listener retains. The first three works on the disc were originally combined on (and in the U.S., still available as) Ondine 804. This new version has a snappier package more in keeping with Saariaho's enhanced reputation of late and the addition of the Sept papillons, which total less than 12 minutes. Ondine should hardly have bothered, as these are fluttery little wisps of music that go in one ear and out the other.

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