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Saariaho: Tocar; Cloud Trio; Light and Matter; Aure; Graal théâtre

Jennifer Koh, Hsin-Yun Huang, Wilhelmina Smith, Anssi Karttunen, Nicolas Hodges; Curtis 20/21 Ensemble/Conner Gray Covington (Cédille)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Tocar; Cloud Trio; Light and Matter; Aure; Graal théâtre
Jennifer Koh (violin), Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), Wilhelmina Smith, Anssi Karttunen (cello), Nicolas Hodges (piano); Curtis 20/21 Ensemble/Conner Gray Covington
Cédille CDR 90000 183   68:06 mins


When in 2000 violinist Jennifer Koh first encountered the music of Kaija Saariaho, she felt an immediate affinity with her unique synaesthetic soundworld. Since then, the pair have developed a strong creative bond attested by this delicate yet visceral recording. Spanning recent chamber works – two duos and two trios – and the 1994 concerto, Graal théâtre, Koh’s grasp of the composer’s inner tensions proves both subtle and fiercely virtuosic. A common thread is her heady, brittle lyricism which coils, tendril-like through the shifting colours and timbres of each piece in turn, matched in dramatic spirit by excellent fellow collaborators. From the opening Tocar or ‘Touch’ (2010), an intense, playful tactility effectively earths a continuous gestural flow that might otherwise be ethereally distant. Here and in the piano trio Light and Matter (2014), pianist Nicolas Hodges forms a sensitive anchor-point, he and Koh joined in the latter work by cellist Anssi Karttunen for a world premiere recording which encapsulates Saariaho’s kinetic power and luminosity.

Violinist and cellist come movingly together in Aure (2011), originally written for violin and viola in homage to Dutilleux, whose Mémoire des ombres memorialising Anne Frank touched Saariaho deeply. Hsin-Yun Huang (viola) and Wilhelmina Smith (cello) prove no lesser partners in the Alps-inspired Cloud Trio (2009). Yet it’s Graal théâtre where Koh really takes the breath away; alongside the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble under conductor Conner Gray Covington, she spins lines and textures with exquisite refinement and control.


Steph Power