Kaija Saariaho has written a great deal of significant music for precision-delivered soprano voice, and not just because Dawn Upshaw exists. Finnish coloratura soprano Anu Komsi has been commissioning, premiering and recording music by Saariaho since the 1980s. Now she and her trusted collaborative pianist Pia Värri have compiled an intense selection of Saariaho on a disc titled Through the Mist, the main focus being on cycles written for Komsi. The poets set in these works are among Finland’s best-known: National Romantic classic Eino Leino and 1960s provocative modernist Pentti Saarikoski.
It is often surmised that Saariaho initially employed a modernist vocal idiom that then evolved into something more melodic and more widely appreciated. Nevertheless, 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. The soaring melodies in Leino-laulut (Leino Songs, 2000–2007) are charming, perhaps because the abstract, elongated vowels amplify the Romantic character of the poetry. Saarikoski-laulut (Saarikoski Songs, 2013–2020), on the other hand, are austere and declamatory, coloured by the percussive piano. In this context, the modernism of the individual early songs included fits in quite naturally and in suitable quantity.
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. No one has a more enlightened understanding of Saariaho than her, but it says much about the current state of classical music recordings that Komsi has self-published this album. However, it says just as much that she has managed this with as much style and quality as any major or trendy record label.
Kaija Saariaho: Through the Mist
Preludi-Tunnustus-Postludi; Leino Songs; Du gick, flög; Il Pleut; Saarikoski Songs
Anu Komsi, soprano
Pia Värri, piano
Anu Komsi and trumpeter Verneri Pohjola are among the nominees for the Nordic Council Music Prize 2021. The winner will be announced on 2 November, 2021.