SAARIAHO: Notes on Light; Orion; Mirage – Karita Mattila, soprano/ Anssi Karttunen, cello/ Orchestre de Paris/ Christoph Eschenbach, conductor – Ondine 1130, 63:06 *** [Distr. by Universal]:
I do not know what to make of composers like Kaija Saariaho—she seems to live in poetics, mysticism, and the events of the cosmos like light and stars, but for the life of me I cannot fathom what she is actually trying to say. All of the works on this disc, well-played though a little cluttered in sound, are bathed in this philosophical jungle where we are expected to appropriate her tonal world of sounds and sounds, Varese-like in their indeterminate and independently lifelike gestation, and existing solely of the moment, to be gloried in and appreciated. Perhaps I could have done this in my college days in the early 1970s (with some help perhaps), but sitting here stone sober it is a little difficult to apprehend the vast canvas and highly diffuse aural energy she chooses to paint with.
Mirage is my favorite, maybe because the English speaking soprano (chanting the words of a Mexican shaman) gives some handle bars to the unbalanced bicycle, and Orion’s clusters of contemplative wonder do allow for some moments of ecstatic non-reasoning. Mattila is superb as always, and I cannot exempt the tricky cello part from a large degree of praise as well.
But the nuances of the quasi-cello concerto Notes on Light fail to persuade. It might for you, especially if you like this Nordic lady, and the performances are quite committed by one of the most honest conductors out there today. Your call.
— Steven Ritter