Saariaho: Notes on Light; Orion; Mirage

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COMPOSERS: Saariaho
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Saariaho
WORKS: Notes on Light; Orion; Mirage
PERFORMER: Karita Mattila (soprano), Anssi Karttunen (cello); Orchestre de Paris/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1130-2

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Saariaho has always had an extraordinary ear for a beauty of sound, best described in terms of light. Since working with singers like Dawn Upshaw and Karita Mattila, her melodic contours have become less angular, more lyrical. The slow unfolding of the solo line in the first movement of Notes on Light – a five-movement cello concerto – has the simple inevitability you’d expect from that movement’s subtitle: ‘Translucent, secret’. Anssi Karttunen is as impressive in this as he is in the strongly rhythmic music which the work also contains. There’s a more elemental feel in Mirage, where Mattila interprets and Karttunen comments on the ecstatic words by Maria Sabina, a Mexican shaman. It’s a wild ride, as she passes between worlds in human and animal incarnations. The orchestra is on its own in Orion, a three-movement work exploring the two sides of the mythical figure: as a fleet-footed hunter, and as a fixed constellation in the sky. With an opening strangely reminiscent of the beginning of Part 2 of the Rite of Spring, it proceeds through an icy landscape, dominated by high winds, strings and percussion, to a scherzo, full of hunting horns, which speeds up but becomes quieter as Orion is whirled up to his place in the heavens. The sound is clear, and performances have that extra edge which live recording brings. Martin Cotton