Jazz CD Reviews

Kynnyksellä – On A Threshold – The Female Choir of the Student Union of Helsinki School of Economics/ Kaija Vitasalo, dir. – Alba

Pure-toned Finnish female choir excels in vocal jazz and pop

Published on November 2, 2006

Kynnyksellä – On A Threshold – The Female Choir of the Student Union of Helsinki School of Economics/ Kaija Vitasalo, dir. – Alba
Kynnyksellä – On A Threshold – The Female Choir of the Student Union of Helsinki School of Economics, with Sonny Heinilä, saxophones and flutes/ Kirmo Lintinen, piano/Tuure Koski, bass/Mika Kallio, drums/Markku Ounaskari, drums/Pekka Nyman, bongos/ Kaija Viitasalo, conductor – Alba ABCD 223, 50:05 ****:

KYN (Kauppakorkeakoulun Ylioppilaskunnan Naislaulajat) is a female choir from the Helsinki School of Economics; and most of the singers are students whose average age is twenty-four years old.  In their twenty-five-year history, they have released five recordings and also distinguished themselves by winning several choral competitions in Europe.  For those whose only experience with choral competitions have been the United States high school variety, be assured that they actually mean something in Europe. Choral music is much more a part of the secular social fabric there; and many groups work long and hard to prepare for these opportunities to display their vocal prowess.  This recording contains several world premieres of compositions that the group had commissioned, as well as premieres of special choral arrangements.  This choir obviously takes themselves very seriously and is not afraid to forge new choral frontiers.  Their partnership with their current conductor began in 1989 after she graduated from the Sibelius Academy with a Master of Music degree (apparently the equivalent to our Bachelor of Music degree.) 

If you were expecting traditional performances of Scandinavian folk music, you may be disappointed by this recording.  Under their current conductor, the group’s main focus is on Finnish jazz and popular music.  The best thing about this is that they have found an excuse to use the considerable talents of several fine jazz instrumentalists.  Choral recordings do not usually have a saxophone player as a principal element of the music; and my sense of whimsy (as well as my love for vocal jazz) was intrigued by this addition.  The music, although in a language I do not understand, is nevertheless enjoyable for the sound alone.  The choir has a pure, unaffected tone that is quite pleasing to the ear.

Their dynamic range is impressive, especially since tone production remains consistent throughout.  The performance style is definitely geared toward the popular, as it should be, and the group sounds like they really enjoy what they are singing. The choral arrangements are challenging and executed with confidence and careful attention to choral balance and diction issues. The balance between the singers and instrumentalists is very comfortable for the ear, no mean feat when combining vocalists and instrumentalists.  (Kudos to the recording engineer.)  Put this all together, and what you get is a very pleasant way to spend some time listening to a group that describes itself as being on the threshold of new musical adventures. 

An interesting note: the disk contains the standard warning about rights to the contents, but with a twist.  Among the prohibitions expressed is the lending of this disc. I wonder if that comes from the notion that people might just pass it around rather than purchase it? Hopefully, the record companies here will not notice and start putting this admonition on CDs. [They already do – on both CDs and DVDs. Evidently the Europeans are just emulating the piracy paranoia of U.S. labels and studios…Ed.]

Tracklist: Poistuva rakkaus (Fading Love), Malaria, Kynnyksellä (On a Threshold), Aamun satama (Morning Harbour), Meri ja ranta (The Sea and the Shore), Yö (Night), La mie laulan (So I Sing), Yön valossa pimeässä (In the Dark Light of the Night), Lady Day, Femme fatale, Tulisit (Come to Me), Vilu (Chill), En mä tullut niin kuin ennen (Do Not Come Like Before). 

— Ann Stahmer

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