Cendres (1991/6) 8:57
alto flute, cello and piano
Grammaire des Rêves (1988-9) 11:27
for soprano, contralto, 2 flutes, harp, viola, cello
Alison Wells, soprano
Mary King, alto
James Wood, conductor
Solar (1993) 17:29
for flute/piccolo, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, 2 percussion, harp, piano/sampler, synthesizer, violin, viola, double bass
James Wood, conductor
Written for Champ d'Action
New Gates (1996) 11:52
for flute, harp and viola
Performed by Champ d'Action
Kaija Saariaho is the most successful of contemporary Finnish composers. She has won a number of international composition prizes, among them the Prix Italia in 1988. Her compositions have been recorded by, among others, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dawn Upshaw and the Kronos Quartet. She studied in Freiburg, and finally settled in Paris, at IRCAM, the centre for computer music. Saariaho continues to live in Paris.
"In Cendres, musical tension is created by sometimes bringing the instruments as close together as possible in all compositional aspects (such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics, articulation, color), sometimes letting each of them express the music in their own most idiomatic way. In between these extremes one can find an unlimited number of possibilities to create more or less homogenic musical situations. The awareness of this variety was the rope on which I was balancing when working on the piece." (K.S.)
"Grammar of Dreams was born from my curiosity of the relation of human voice to instruments, a subject which I had put aside for many years. As the title of the piece proposes, another source of interest here was the structural life of dreams." The major part of the text is a collage from the texts of Paul Eluard.
"Solar was written for Champ d'Action. Solar is based on the idea of a permanent harmonic structure, which spreads its own image all around and continually brings the harmony back to its original form, as if obeying the laws of gravity. This idea gave the work its title."
New Gates is based on a ballet with no story line: the general theme is passing from one state to another, opening doors, gates, falling, crossing the water, etc.- themes often found in mythologies. As the title suggests, the music moves towards gates, opens them showing us new landscapes, and continues then again towards new gates.
The above quotes are taken from the liner notes, written by the composer.
The Belgian ensemble Champ d'Action takes its name from Umberto Eco's influential book Opera Aperta, which refers to new ways in which to understand the relationships between science and the arts. After more than a decade of intense activity, the ensemble still owes its relevance in the musical world to this meaningful term. Champ d'Action realizes high quality performances and recordings of such music by working directly with the composer. Conductors are carefully selected on the grounds of their working relationship with the composer. This is the first of a series of CDs for Mode, which will also include portrait-CDs of Luc Ferrari and Iannis Xenakis, among others.
Kaija Saariaho - New Gates
Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho studied in Freiburg with Brian Fernyhough and Klaus Huber, and later IRCAM in Paris. On this CD, the Belgian ensemble Champ de'Action - conducted by James Wood - performs five of Saariaho's compositions. Without going into detail about each piece, I'd describe Saariaho's music as some of the best "new" music of the end of the 20th century. In the classic Mode fashion, the recording is exceptional.
--- David Beardsley, Downtown Music Gallery (NYC)
Newsletter 54, 30 March 2001
New Gates; Cendres; Grammaire des rêves; Solar
Champ d'Action/James Wood
* * * * Performance
* * * * Sound
These ensemble pieces show how the virtues of Kaija Saariaho's orchestral works, their fastidious use of instrumental colour and lucid harmonic schemes, are tellingly carried over into much sparser sound worlds. Even the vocal work, Grammaire des rêves (also just issued on Ondine, reviewed last month), is not out of place, for this setting of fragments of Paul Eluard's poetry effectively treats the soprano and contralto soloists instrumentally, persistently embedding them in the shifting, luminous textures. Solar, for 12 players, written for the group Champ d'Action which plays it intensely here, is perhaps the most impressive, showing Saariaho's harmonic thinking at its most subtle - the music revolves aound a fixed harmonic axis, yet creates a fluid patterning of rhythms and pitch centres. And the pared down textures of the two works for flute, viola and harp, Cendres, derived from a double concerto for flute and cello ...a la fumée) and New Gates (a transcrpition of the second part of the ballet, Maa), show the way in which the emphasis of her music began to shift in the mid-Nineties - away from the vertical thinking of the Eighties and early Nineties towards more linear and quasi-melodic ideas which still retain the same sovereign control of long-range organisation and colouristic detail.
--- Andrew Clemens, BBC Music Magazine, February 2001
Cendres / Grammaire des Rêves / Solar / New Gates Champ d'Action / James Wood
Mode 91 CD
48-year-old Kaija Saariaho gazes serenely out of the back tray photograph, gently fingering a beautiful scarf in a gesture both elegantly feminine and protectively determined. The music likewise - seductive and sensual at first listening, it reveals itself gradually to be built on strong, dependable foundations. It's a bit out of fashion these days to toss out words like "beauty" and "elegance" - they never sounded right in the context of the brave new world fashioned by the Darmstadt serialists - but Claude Debussy wouldn't have objected to them, and neither should Saariaho. What's curious about this music is that it seems to have stepped out of time: musique spectrale today - a tendency Saariaho's been associated with for some time, for better or worse, by dint of her presence in Paris no doubt - doesn't sound all that different from what was produced more than two decades ago. Compare "Solar" to Grisey's "Partiels" (1975) or Murail's "Treize Couleurs du Soleil Couchant" (1978), and the same musical concerns are present, albeit articulated in different ways: a clear idea of "harmony" (in the sense of spectral coherence, absolutely the right notes), an ear fine-tuned to the specificities of the instrument (either alone or in the context of an ensemble), and a command of large-scale form that immediately situates the work in the corpus of European classical music since Beethoven. For once, the label "classical" seems to mean something: I suspect that Saariaho will still be writing music that sounds like this in 2020 (which may not, depending on your point of view, necessarily be a comforting thought, though it's perhaps unfair to expect contemporary instrumental music to display the year of its creation as overtly as electroacoustic and other new musics do). These four works, taken as a whole, form a 50-minute arch from trio to large ensemble and back to trio (the one fault being, sorry to quibble, the mistake on the CD tray: "Cendres" is scored for flute, cello and piano, not flute, harp and viola) and a ravishingly beautiful listening experience to boot, impeccably performed and recorded by Champ d'Action. Happily, more Mode releases are in the pipeline featuring this fine ensemble.
--- Dan Warburton, www.paristransatlantic.com/,
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