Review By Dan Morgan ,MusicWeb International,December 2010
There are some fine vocal ensembles in the Nordic countries, and the YL—the oldest Finnish-language choir in the world—is one of them. I first encountered this group on a two-disc set of Rautavaara pieces—review—which, while entertaining, was not always as polished as I’d expected. I also described that set as ‘accessible’, which may not apply to this new disc; the works here, written between 1985 and 2007, are as contemporary as it gets, and won’t appeal to those who like their choral music bland and inoffensive. And with the exception of Erik Bergman and Tarik O’Regan, the composers represented here are probably
Perttu Haapanen’s Talescapes, written for the YL’s 125th anniversary in 2008, is rooted in the upside-down world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. And as with David del Tredici’s various takes on Mr Dodgson’s classic tales, it’s not quite what it seems. Rather than opt for a simple, linear narrative, Haapanen has chosen words and sentences that tumble and turn like coloured fragments in a kaleidoscope. The chant-like start is soon punctuated by interjections and collisions, longer lines disrupted by sudden plosives and changes of tempo. It’s not nearly as dry and schematic as it sounds, the voices recorded in a bright, clear acoustic that makes the words very easy to hear.
Tapio Tuomela’s Kanteletar-juomalaulu, a drinking song written for an earlier YL anniversary, is perhaps more conventional in sound and style; here, divided voices and competing rhythms create a rollicking counterpoint that also has its transported peaks. It’s a real showpiece, conductor Matti Hyökki holding it all together with remarkable assurance. The choral sound, as so often with these Nordic ensembles, is cool and incisive, but some may find the close recording emphasises those attributes a little too much. No matter, this is an entertaining piece, sung with skill and good humour.
Erik Bergman’s two-part suite is also a YL commission. And while the composer says this meditation on the Northern night is an interior piece rather than a descriptive one, there are bird calls to be heard here. The countertenor Pasi Hyökki is remarkably pure and agile here, the alto flute echoing those calls to great effect. There’s also a profound sense of solitude and empty spaces, emphasised by the long, horizon-stretching vocal lines of part two. The choral singing is beautifully calibrated, the writing suffused with gently shiftin