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This should be good: Classical nominees for the Emma prize

by Kare Eskola

Classical music continues to define the Finnish identity. This year’s Emma nominees show that this year that identity is being shaped by poetry settings by Saariaho, sizzling live technology, awareness of biodiversity loss and international quality.

Kaija Saariaho: Through the Mist. Anu Komsi, soprano and Pia Värri, piano

Finland’s leading contemporary composer and her favourite soprano discover richness in Finnish poetry that can transcend the language barrier to worldwide acclaim.

“The principal takeaway from this album is Saariaho’s timeless sensibility for how the content and tone of a poem dictate that it should be set to music. Anu Komsi's coloratura soprano is confident and instrumental, just what is needed for Saariaho, and her rhetorical expression is surgically precise but never uncontrolled.”

Sauli Zinovjev: Sospirando 2 'Folio'. - Harri Kuusijärvi, accordion and Markus Hohti, cello

A composer whose career is on a strong upward trend demonstrates his skill with sonority and drama in combining electronic and acoustic elements.

“Accordionist Harri Kuusijärvi and cellist Markus Hohti are Finland’s finest practitioners in the use of live electronics, and they make a smoothly organic job of combining effects and at times furious electronic beats with acoustic sounds. Sauli Zinovjev clearly has an excellent command of collaboration with musicians and an advanced understanding of sound and of drama.”

Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. - Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra / Susanna Mälkki

The culmination of the sterling Bartók series of the Helsinki Philharmonic under Susanna Mälkki is excellent by any international comparison.

“Susanna Mälkki’s thrilling sojourn in Duke Bluebeard’s Castle was roundly welcomed by Gramophone – and now, on much more familiar ground, she and the outstanding Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra work more conspicuous magic on two staples of the repertoire. ...brought home with a breadth and fervour which is right up there with some of the best accounts on record.”
- Gramophone

Alex Freeman: Under the Arching Heavens; A Wilderness of Sea. - Helsinki Chamber Choir / Nils Schweckendiek

Settled in Finland, American composer Alex Freeman challenges Lauridsen, Whitacre and other choral music royalty with a richer and denser but no less mellow aesthetic.

“[Freeman's] Clarity of thought, purpose and gesture allied with a broad-brushstroke directness are recurring features, which often reveal hidden depths. ...performed with real poise, power and purpose by the Helsinki Chamber Choir under Nils Schweckendiek.”
- Gramophone

Kamus Quartet: For The Baltic Sea. Nielsen, Stenhammar, Wennäkoski, Tarrodi

The Kamus Quartet is on a mission to save the Baltic Sea by combining scintillating National Romanticism with soft modernism for strings.

“Brightness and darkness of the Baltic Sea in the sound of a string quartet.”

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra by Maarit Kytöharju