Christoph Eschenbach

Kaija Saariaho: Notes on Light; Orion; Mirage

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Ondine's release of orchestral music by Kaija Saariaho includes three large-scale works written between 2002 and 2007. Two are concertos -- Notes on Light is for cello and Mirage is a double concerto for soprano and cello -- and Orion is her largest orchestral work. These pieces reveal Saariaho at the height of her powers; they were written with absolute assurance and control of her material, and they explore intriguing aural territory. Like many of her pieces, they are mysterious and allusive, suggestive rather than expository. The exquisite delicacy and subtlety of the textures she creates account for much of the sensual appeal of her music. The three-movement Orion refers to both Orion the mythological hunter and the constellation that bears his name. Its shimmering second movement, a magical evocation of the night sky, is especially attractive. Notes on Light, which was written for soloist Anssi Karttunen, colorfully explores various aspects of light in its five movements, "Translucent, secret," "On fire," "Awakening," "Eclipse," and "Heart of Light." Mirage features both soprano and cello, but the voice inevitably takes aural precedence, both because of its timbral distinctness and the attention the text calls to it. The composer's setting of the mystical English text, by Maria Sabina, is not particularly apt from a technical standpoint, but it allows soloist Karita Mattila to soar with gorgeous fullness and warmth over the orchestra. The cello functions primarily as an obbligato, weaving a layer of textural richness under the voice. Christoph Eschenbach leads Orchestre de Paris in luminous performances that convey both the spontaneity of the composer's vision and the precision with which she expresses it. Ondine's sound is lively and present.

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