What kind of a choral disc will result from combining one composer known for music of noise and tumult with another who deals in quarter-tones? Generally speaking, exploratory modernist choral music is taxing to both perform and listen to, but this disc is an exception. Both Antti Auvinen and Sampo Haapamäki take the listener on a roller-coaster ride, but it is always clear where they are going.
Auvinen’s choral works contain panting, grunting and stamping, but out of his extended vocal techniques, tonal colours and phonemes he builds up very clear tensions and processes – in a word, music. Fluctuating pedal points and static sound fields bind everything together, and the corporeal nature of choral expression generates a powerful emotional response. Obviously Foreign Infantry (2017), written for the centenary of the First World War, is utterly surreal yet presents a powerful take-down of the insanity of war, while the chilling effectiveness of On, -ne, -ni (2010) is based on quiet, unexplained phonemes recalling Auvinen’s breakthrough opera Autuus.
Haapamäki’s Maailmamaa (2010) grabs the listener even more brashly, taking us on a 40-minute scenic trip from nationalism to global utopia. Instead of tormenting the choir with his beloved quarter-tones, the composer employs hymns, drones, swing and shouting matches. The impossible textures are here provided by a tape part that deliciously and seamlessly blends with the choir and reinforces the definite sense of direction found in Haapamäki’s music.
The Helsinki Chamber Choir, which specialises in contemporary music, performs Auvinen’s and Haapamäki’s choral idiom with such natural flair that the end result comes across as a musical performance rather than an execution of special effects.
Choral Works by Antti Auvinen and Sampo Haapamäki
Helsinki Chamber Choir, cond. Nils Schweckendiek
Alba Records ABCD 457
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi