The present evening, first in a Contemporary Music Network tour, presented in association with CMN Tours, offered London audiences more than just an entrée into her music. From the Grammar of Dreams collates several of Saariahos chamber and vocal works, linked into a 70-minute, audio-visual traversal of her translucent and evocative soundworld. The pieces range from the timeless lyricism of the Apollinaire setting, Il Pleut (1986), through the distanced plangency of Die Aussicht (1996), to the work which gives the evening its title. Written in 1988, this is a virtuosic conflation of texts by Silvia Plath in which speech and song elide constantly between noise and melody. By contrast, New Gates (1996) brings a lucid tranquillity to its Debussyian instrumentation, out of which Mirandas Lament (1998) emerges as a touching plaint. Lonh (1996) employs electronics to refract the sopranos haunting rendering of a medieval French text, in a soundscape unique to Saariaho. The four Messages (1999) frame and intersperse the main works, their brief oases of calm enhancing the overall follow-through.
There can be nothing but praise for the dedication of the performers, of which it may be unfair to single out Anu Komsis flawless purity of timbre and Ulrike von Meiers inventive and inventively-used harp playing. Its sad to report that the visual presentation was less convincing. Raija Malka had clearly tried to establish continuity of mood and focus over the greater span and, while it may have been teething problems that left the performers with a modicum of platform rearrangement between certain pieces, the paucity of the backdrops and spatial realisation quickly became apparent. Liisa Kyrönseppäs lighting, predominantly of subdued tints of orange, was generally effective, but problems with the speaker outage did impede listening in some of the items.
So, a decidedly mixed presentation which, while it did not seriously lessen the immediacy of the music, failed to promote it to the degree that surely should be the aim in a mixed-media event of this kind. Hopefully, such technical problems as there were will be ironed out over the course of the tour, while the inimitable qualities of Saariahos music will have been communicated to those present.
- Saturday, 24 November, Royal Festival Hall, Alan Gilbert conducts the London Philharmonic in Saariahos Graal Theatre for violin and orchestra with Gidon Kremer. Also, Ravels Le Tombeau de Couperin and Sibeliuss Fifth Symphony
- Box Office: 020 7960 4201 www.rfh.org.uk
- Read Steve Lomass review of Sonys Saariaho CD
- Visit the Saariaho website at www.saariaho.org