Saariaho’s Chamber Works for Strings Volume 2

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COMPOSERS: Saariaho
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Saariaho
WORKS: Chamber works for strings, Vol. 2: Fleurs de Neige; Aure; Du gick, flög; Nocturne, Changing Light; …de la Terre; Die Aussicht; Terra Memoria
PERFORMER: Meta4; Pia Freund (soprano)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1242-2

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The second volume of Meta4’s championing of Kaija Saariaho’s chamber works for strings presents, fascinatingly, a fine gossamer web of transformation and re-invention. Only Terra Memoria, Saariaho’s second string quartet, dating from 2006, stands alone in its original single form – and it’s not only the most substantial (nearly 20 minutes) work on the disc, but also the most robustly inventive. Dedicated ‘for those departed’, Terra Memoria celebrates both the subtle illusions of stasis and the transformative conjurings of Saariaho’s unique composing imagination; and here this symbolises both the perfect whole of achieved lives, and the continuing mutations of memory. The other substantial work is …de la Terre (1991), an abstract, for violin and electronics (Antti Tikkanen and Marko Myohanen), from Saariaho’s dance piece, Earth. It’s a far-extending plain of bird chirrupings, human whisperings, exhalations and resonances, with a foreground of filigree violin patternings. And it tends to outstay its welcome.

And then the metamorphosed miniatures, re-cast from their original instrumentation (see Kimmo Korhonen’s excellent notes for details): there are two ‘homages’: Aure, a breath of lamenting air for Dutilleux, now for violin and viola; and three works which showcase Pia Freund’s eloquent soprano. Du gick, flog (You went, flew), for soprano and cello, catches spare words as they fly; and Die Aussicht (Vista) sets Hölderlin, now for voice and string quartet. Best of all, there’s Changing Light, which sets monotonic and declamatory voice against ecstatic violin in a meditation on creation and life by Rabbi Jules Harlow.

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Hilary Finch