Kaija Saariaho – True Fire true masterwork

For me, Kaija Saariaho is one of those composers who reward exploration. Her sonic world is so unique, that it can only be appreciated with repeated visits. And, of course, each work yields a different insight into Saariaho’s creative mind.

This release features three views into Saariaho’s world. True Fire was composed for baritone Gerald Finley, who performs it here. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra was one of the co-commissioning organizations. Consider this, then, an authoritative performance, and a thrilling one at that.

Saariaho uses texts by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Seamus Heaney, Mahmoud Darwish, and Native American poetry. Woven together, she creates a meditation of the shifting relationship between humankind and nature.

Gerald Finley pulls the work together, narrating in different voices. He uses his full range, expressively taking on various roles to tell the story. It’s an amazing composition that does not yield all its meanings in just one hearing.

“For me, a concerto is less about traditional virtuoso technique than about drilling deep into the soul of the instrument (and music).” Saariaho’s words aptly describe “Trans,” her concerto for harp and orchestra.

Harpist Xavier de Maistre plays with a light touch and shimmering tone. At times his delicate runs seem to sparkle. But there’s substance behind this music, and it does indeed run deep into the soul of the harp. To me, it seemed as if the harp was offering up ideas for the orchestra to ponder and work with. This wasn’t pretty music — but it was quite beautiful. And it was beautifully performed.

Also included was “Ciel d’hiver,” a short work based on Saariaho’s “Orion.” Want additional insights into her creativity? Listen to those two works back-to-back.

Highly recommended, and not just to Saariaho fans. This is music of real substance.

Kaija Saariaho: True Fire; Trans; Ciel d’hiver
Gerald Finley, baritone
Xavier de Maistre, harp
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Hannu Lintu, conductor
Ondine

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