in Reviews

Gorgeous tones from the North

by Anna Pulkkis

"The Earth, Spring’s Daughter is dramatic and gorgeously sounding. [-] Saivo elegantly combines contemporary aesthetics, associations to nature, and a mythological dimension."

The nature, people, and mythologies of northern Finland serve as a frequent source of inspiration for the Rovaniemi-born composer Outi Tarkiainen (f. 1985). A northern theme also runs through the new Ondine recording including the orchestral song cycle The Earth, Spring’s Daughter (Eanan, giđa nieida, 2014–2015) and the saxophone concerto Saivo (2016).

Tarkiainen has compiled the Sami text of the song cycle from poems by Rauni Magga Lukkari, Rose-Marie Huuva, Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Leena Morottaja, Timo Malmi, and Aila Meriluoto (incidentally, the sleeve note is lacking the information about who wrote which poem). The 42-minute work consists of seven songs framed by a prologue and an epilogue. The text in the prologue, repeated as part of the epilogue, introduces themes such as the cycles of the seasons and of the generations. Skilfully woven into the whole, the work also highlights environmental and cultural threats, such as colonization in the song “Our father’s estate has been divided up today.”

Musically, The Earth, Spring’s Daughter is dramatic and gorgeously sounding. The vocal part is melismatic and ecstatic, whereas the orchestral part, built on pedal points, is in a constant state of subtle transformation (one comes to think of Saariaho) and supports instrumental solo phrases with leitmotif character. The music reaches an impressive late-Romantic flow in the above-mentioned “Our father’s estate” and, in a more intimate manner, in “Not so straight”. The crisply beautiful cello and violin solos make the epilogue stand out from the previous material.

Virpi Räisänen is one of the leading Finnish mezzo-sopranos and an insightful and unerring interpreter of contemporary works. Her performance in Earth, Spring’s Daughter is fantastic both vocally and in terms of interpretation.

The title of the concerto, Saivo, refers to the ancient Sami beliefs meaning a two-bottomed lake. Jukka Perko’s virtuoso soprano saxophone reminds of the importance of jazz music in Tarkiainen’s artistic profile. The solo part consists mostly of rather short passages and repetitive figures and gives an improvisatory impression, with a broad timbral spectrum from rough multiphonics to flute-like sensitivity or sounds that resemble bird calls. The five-movement work (Image of You–In the Water–In the Ashes–Reflection–Fissure) has a symmetrical structure, in which the second and fourth movements are shorter than the other three. In the first, second, and fourth movements in particular, the sound world, gently modified with the help of live electronics, is sensitive and shimmering – sparkling percussions have a prominent role in both works on the recording. In the middle movement the orchestral texture is darker and sturdier, creating a beautiful contrast with the soloist’s high notes. The finale culminates in an electrical frenzy but saves itself to a calm closing passage. Saivo elegantly combines contemporary aesthetics, associations to nature, and a mythological dimension.

There is no doubt that Tarkiainen writes brilliant music!

TARKIAINEN: The Earth, Spring’s Daughter; Saivo

Virpi Räisänen (mezzo-soprano)
Jukka Perko (saxophone)
Lapland Chamber Orchestra, cond. John Storgårds

Ondine ODE 1353-2