Mäntyjärvi - Choral Music - Organists' Quarterly



"Overwhelmingly and profoundly moving."

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi was born in Turku, Finland in 1963 and has sung in and conducted various choral ensembles there. His compositional output, sacred and secular in equal measure, has been predominantly choral. His Four Shakespeare Songs of 1984 are among the most popular. All the pieces on this CD are a cappella, often ultra divisi.

The music is sonorous and spacious, largely consonant though not invariably tonal, with excursions into Lydian and Phrygian, mode and almost orchestral colour, often effected simply by octave or sub-octave doublings or fluctuation of vertical spacing within an otherwise perfectly common chord and by sparing use of transient dissonances subtly by enhancing the prevailing triadic harmony. Sounds and shades of the Orthodox liturgy lurk at times, basses often plumbing the depths, most notably at the of the Nunc dimittis, where they slowly descend to settle on A flat below the stave. The composer, we read, ‘was surprised to find no fewer than four Trinity basses equal to the task’ when it was sung in the course of Choral Evensong (cf. track 11, Trinity Service).

Almost as deep is Ave Maria d’Aosta, the shortest track, where opulent coolness whets the appetite. The Stuttgarter Psalmen were written as settings for the 2009 bicentenary of Mendelssohn’s birth, revisiting the texts from his Op. 78: Psalm 2, (‘Why do the heathen so furiously rage…?’) with perhaps the most vigorous and violent moments of the whole CD; Psalm 22 vv. 1-8, 14-28, otherwise the longest of the three, the music justifiably eliciting the wonderful comment ‘Seldom can “the dust of death” have been so grimly evoked’; and Psalm 43 balancing the first. Benedic anima mea combines plainchant, organum and lively rhythms. Pulchra es (‘Thou art beautiful, O my love…’) was written for the wedding of the composer’s son.

Scattered throughout the comprehensive and indispensable booklet notes are comparisons with Bruckner, Frank Martin, Schütz, Pärt, Tavener etc. – all relevant.

My word-count looms: amazing, flawless singing, Stephen Layton thoroughly inspirational. Star rating, if such has any point, ten (out of five). Overwhelmingly and profoundly moving.

Michael Bell

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