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Outi TARKIAINEN (b. 1985)
Beyond Poems
Trois Poèmes, for string quartet (2013) [11:29]
Sans Paroles, for clarinet (2012) [8:36]
Kunnes kivi halkeaa (Until the Stone Splits), for violin (2008) [6:08]
Baudelaire Songs (2009-2013) [15:32]
Sanasi, kiveen uponneet (Thy words, submerged in stone), for cello (2011) [8:07]
Metsän hiljaisuuteen (Into the Woodland Silence), for soprano, clarinet, cello and piano (2012) [17:10]
….ja alkoivat laulaa (….and they began to sing), for accordion (2015) [6:19]
Kamus Quartet
Lauri Sallinen (clarinet)
Maria Puusaari (violin)
Markus Hohti (cello)
Tuuli Lindeberg (soprano)
Emil Holmström (piano)
Veli Kujala (accordion)
rec. 2017, Sellosali, Espoo & Snellman Hall, Kokkola, Finland
Texts in English and Finnish included
ALBA ABCD415 [73:29]

The title of the album, one assumes, pertains to the idea that much of the instrumental music included is derived in some way from Outi Tarkiainen’s vocal output. So who is this young Finn? She was born in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. Unsurprisingly, this rather remote place – and the cultural, environmental and spiritual concerns of the Sami experience – have triggered many of her compositional impulses. Jazz is also a clear pre-occupation; on this album these worlds collide most obviously in the remarkable Metsän hiljaisuuteen (Into the Woodland Silence) for voice and three instruments.

The disc opens with what on the face of it might seem a rather abstract string quartet work, Trois Poèmes. In fact there is far more going on than meets the ear immediately, especially in this dramatic account from the Kamus Quartet. In actual fact the three movements amount to a non-verbal reinterpretation of the Baudelaire texts which feature in the song cycle later on the disc. Tarkiainen regularly make use of one work to trigger other, ostensibly different pieces. A conceptual, rather than literal, form of recycling, perhaps. So in the first movement Vision, the opening rising and falling figure, almost literally evokes the flight of the albatross and its capture (a slowed-down version of this is detectable in the parallel song). The busy, mocking character of the string textures convey not just the attitude of the hard-faced sailors to the corpse of this ‘prince of the clouds’, but the apathy of the public towards the visionary ideas of the poet. In Désir, the terrifying vertigo endured by the protagonist facing the abyss in his worst nightmare is transformed into a more liberating experience of looking down. The final movement Dépendance seems to seamlessly integrate references to Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs. Trois Poèmes is an impressively concise and attractive work, melding eerie textures with lush harmonies.

The Baudelaire cycle on which the quartet is based is superbly sung (in an English translation) by the soprano Tuuli Lindeberg. These three songs present huge technical challenges which she glides through almost nonchalantly. A few plays of the piece makes manifest the gestural links with the quartet. Moreover, while Lindeberg’s wonderfully expressive, at times smoky voice conjures a blend of colours both glowing and murky, ultimately her account illuminates the composer’s accomplished and natural word setting. The jazz and cabaret inflections that permeate both accompaniment and vocal line in these Baudelaire Songs add to their considerable attraction.

These two works are separated by a pair of works for solo players. In Sans Paroles for clarinet, Lauri Sallinen projects an instrumental vocalise that begins fluently but seems to increase in agitated hesitancy as it proceeds; in the booklet, Juha Torvinen describes this as a “laborious stutter”. This is another eloquent example of Tarkiainen’s ‘non-vocal’ vocal music, and it is brilliantly played by Sallinen. The briefer Kunnes kivi halkeaa (Until the Stone Splits) is aptly a tougher nut to crack. It is constructed around the interval of a second which gives it the tang at least of Renaissance vocal or viol music, and which typically conveys grief, a quality always hovering around the surface here. The experienced Finnish violinist Maria Puusaari gives a poised, determined account.

The solo cello piece, whose title translates as Thy words, submerged in stone, is a study in shrinking intervals. The composer explains that the work addresses the joy that arises from trust in human relationships; the intervals diminish, become more adjacent, but never truly converge. Is this a literal representation of human social relationships – in that although we may bond, we maintain some semblance of self? The listener can certainly perceive the process of ‘getting closer’ within this interesting, colourful and virtuosic piece, dramatically delivered by Markus Hohti. It is something of an austere, ascetic joy that emerges from the notes, however.

The fascinating tension between the individual and the communal world is explored more overtly in the following piece, the monodrama Into the Woodland Silence, originally a jazz work for voice and big band. In this revision, Tarkiainen uses just three instruments to accompany the soprano. She sets words by two Finnish poets, Eeva-Liisa Manner and Sirkka Turkka, which explore the nature of self and the essence of co-habitation of an environment, and perhaps even the competition involved. This is an atmospheric, eerie, very Nordic work. The composer draws a huge spectrum of colour and sound from the three players; they sound like a much larger group. The shrieking whooping clarinet, theatrical tremolandi of the cello, bass piano notes or clusters, and odd percussive effects effortlessly evoke nature. Tuuli Lindeberg’s voice can switch between treble purity and Cleo Laine-type jazz stylings in a breath. There is some delicious writing in this work whereby the voice unconventionally shadows the instrumental lines and vice-versa. This is ravishing, imaginative nature music; I am sufficiently intrigued to wonder what the big-band version sounds like.

The final work on the album, the accordion piece “ ….and they began to sing” also connects to Tarkiainen’s earlier work – in this case the (as yet unrecorded) song-cycle The Earth, Spring’s Daughter. It confirms once more her commitment to exploring the implications of her part-Sami background. In this Lapp culture, the interdependence of mankind and environment, of past and present, is a central spiritual and practical concern. Within the music there are overt references to faith, to the cycle of the seasons, and to breath (literally produced by Veli Kujala’s accordion), the pre-requisite of life itself and in Sami terms of cosmic harmony. If that all sounds a bit ‘new-age’: while the music is essentially calm in temperament, as with the other pieces on this album, there is a lot going on under the surface. So for instance, by honing in at different moments I found the piece evoked folk music, the stillness of the landscape, the turning of the earth; at the same time “ ….and they began to sing” embodies an appealing modernity.

I have really enjoyed encountering Outi Tarkiainen’s music for the first time. While she cites Kaija Saariaho as an influence, I feel her music gets even closer to nature and particularly to the environment of Northern Finland. Not for nothing does the booklet allude to her ‘Glocal’ credentials. As an admirer of the underappreciated Lancashire musician Richard Skelton, I feel there is a large conceptual overlap in his work with that of this young Finn. In both cases, the music utterly inhabits the places it addresses, or at least the places as they exist in the listener’s imagination, or memory. In her string music, Alban Berg’s influence has been thoroughly assimilated and supports Tarkiainen’s rather unique brand of Nordic expressivity. For a contemporary music lover, it is easy to believe that every Scandinavian either composes or plays, and sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish one compositional voice from another. But there is no doubt that Outi Takiainen’s music radiates more than a spark of ‘otherness’. I shall definitely be keeping my eyes and ears peeled for more of her brooding, exquisite music.

Richard Hanlon

 




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