Kaija Saariaho: Let the Wind Speak

The cover for this release perfectly represents its contents. It’s a photograph of Camilla Hoitenga playing her flute. The image has been manipulated, though, with added layers and textures. And it’s been slightly distorted, giving the flute a very gently S-curve. Saariaho’s music for the flute seems to do the same — it ever so gently bends and distorts to create something beyond the sound of the traditional flute.

“Let the Wind Speak” also documents a friendship. In the liner notes, Hoitenga discusses how her career intersects with Saariaho’s, beginning with “Laconisme de l’alle” in 1982. And it’s a dynamic relationship. Some works, such as were commissioned by Hoitenga, but others have a different story.

The version of “Couleurs du vent” on this release is the shorter version of this work — a version that came about when Hoitenga accidentally skipped several pages during a performance. Saariaho thought the accident worked and so made this revision.

Also included are some arrangements by Hoitenga, made in consultation with the composer. The opening track “Tocar,” for example, works well in its flute and harp arrangement (originally written for violin and piano). As does “Oi Kuu,” a study in multiphonics. Although Saariaho wrote the work as an exploration of tonal contrast between a bass clarinet and cello, this alternate version for bass flute and cello yields similar insights with the interplay between the two instruments.

As compelling as the solo works and duets are on this album, for me the centerpiece is “Sombre I-III,” written for Da Camera of Houston in 2012. This dark, introspective work features settings of Ezra Pound’s last Cantos. The use of “dark” instruments — bass flute, baritone voice and double bass — give “Sombre” its emotional weight.

While I might not recommend that someone start their exploration of Kaija Saariaho’s music with “Let the Wind Speak,” I do think it belongs in the collection of anyone who’s responded to her work. It’s intimate, personal, beautiful music that certainly resonated with me.

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