Saariaho Chamber Works for Strings

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is a master of soundscapes. Her orchestral works weave tapestries of sound that are both earthy and other-wordly. And as this new collection shows, her nuanced approach to music is equally effective with the limited forces of chamber groups.

Although the string quartet META4 are the featured artists, they only perform together on one track — Nymphéa. The rest of the selections are for a single string instrument with varying types of accompaniment: Tocar, and Calices for violin and piano; Vent nocturne for viola and electronics; Spins and Spells for cello solo, and Nocturne for violin solo.

Nymphéa is composed for string quartet plus electronics. And Saariaho applies said electronics with a very light touch. She uses them to enhance the sound of the acoustic instruments, almost like super-saturating the colors of a photograph. The electronics heighten the emotional intensity of the string quartet in this pensive work.

My personal favorite is Spins and Spells for solo cello. There’s an off-kilter quality to the music that keeps it moving forward in fits and starts. The work feels perpetually off-balance and tumbling forward right up to the end.

If you’re already a fan of Saariaho’s music, this disc is a must. If not, this can provide a good and somewhat intimate introduction to this visionary composer’s style.

Kaija Saariaho: Chamber Works for Strings, Vol. 1

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