Kaija Saariaho
Message 1 [two sopranos, flute, harp]
Il Pleut [soprano, harp]
Die Aussicht [soprano, flute, harp, cello]
Message 2 [two sopranos, flute, harp]
From the Grammar of Dreams [two sopranos]
New Gates [flute, harp, viola]
Miranda’s Lament [soprano, flute, cello, harp]
Message 3 [two sopranos, flute, harp]
Lonh [soprano, electronics]
Message 4 [two sopranos, flute, harp]

Anu Komsi (soprano)
Pia Komsi (soprano & cello)
Ulrike von Meier (harp)
Eva Tigerstedt (flute)
Anna Kreetta Turunen (viola)

Raija Malka (set & costume design)
Liisa Kyrönseppä (lighting design)
Antoine Mercier (sound engineer)
Kaija Saariaho is a composer in the news at present. Her opera, L’amour de loin, can currently be heard in Paris after its successful launch at this summer’s Salzburg Festival; a new disc from Sony Classical has garnered favourable reviews (including classicalsource.com), and this Saturday, 24 November, the London Philharmonic plays the first of three works to be heard this season, as part of its ’Composer in Focus’ project.
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 Saariaho’s 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 Miranda’s Lament (1998) emerges as a touching plaint. Lonh (1996) employs electronics to refract the soprano’s 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 Komsi’s flawless purity of timbre and Ulrike von Meier’s inventive – and inventively-used – harp playing. It’s 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 Kyrönseppä’s 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 Saariaho’s music will have been communicated to those present.

 

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