Monday, November 5, 2018

Jennifer Koh Showcases Saariaho on Cedille

courtesy of Naxos of America

This Friday Cedille Records will release its twelfth album featuring violinist Jennifer Koh. The album title is simply Saariaho X Koh (which, presumably, can be read aloud as “Saariaho by Koh”). The contents include the world premiere recording of Kaija Saariaho’s only piano trio (at least to date), “Light and Matter.” Curiously, the album includes only two selections from the two volumes of Meta4’s account of Saariaho’s chamber works for strings. “Tocar” can be found on the first Meta4 volume; and “Aure” is on the second, albeit in its original version for violin and viola. Saariaho X Koh presents the first recording of the version for violin and cello. The other selections are the string trio “Cloud Trio” and the violin concerto “Graal théâtre.” As is usually the case, is currently processing preorders.

Those familiar with Saariaho’s work (possibly as a result of following articles on this site) probably know that sonority tends to play a major role in how she conceives her compositions. It did not surprise me that the word “soundscape” occurs twice in the accompanying booklet. Fortunately, Koh is no stranger to working with techniques through which she can elicit the diverse palette of sonorities that is required to realize Saariaho’s conceptions. To be fair, however, I have to say that I have enjoyed observing how the command of such techniques has become more prevalent, particularly in chamber music settings. Indeed, while Saariaho X Koh may present the world premiere recording of “Light and Matter,” my own “first contact” with this piece took place this past June, when it was included on the recital program that the recently formed Curium piano trio prepared for its debut in the Old First Concerts series. For that matter a general interest in Saariaho’s music on the “local scene” seems to have emerged in conjunction with her recent residency at the University of California at Berkeley.

One result of this attention is that I have come to welcome any opportunity that allows a “closer look” at Saariaho’s work than is the result of listening to her compositions solely through concert programming. From that point of view, one of the key virtues of Saariaho X Koh is the breadth of resources engaged for the different compositions, with the fragility of the “Aure” duo at one extreme (the adjective “fragile” actually appears in the score) and the thicker (but still delicate) textures that arise in the concertante setting for “Graal théâtre.” Any one of the selections on the album can stand up well to repeated listening; and the “path” through the diversity of instrumental settings that is traversed by the entire track listing means that such listening can be just as appropriate for the album as a whole.

Nevertheless, I must confess that listening to the “overall program” of this album left me curious about when Meta4 will release the next installment in their project to record Saariaho’s chamber music!

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