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Mäntyjärvi - Choral Music - Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE)

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Jaakko Mäntyjärvi deserves his sumptuous showcase album

The classical music scene in Finland seems to regard Jaakko Mäntyjärvi as an excellent translator who also happens to have a sideline in writing choral music, but abroad he is regarded as an excellent composer who also happens to be fluent in civilised languages. The international success enjoyed by Mäntyjärvi’s choral music is due not only to his consonant and chorally idiomatic harmonies but also to his skill at orchestrating text for choir. This, at least, is what comes across on the new Mäntyjärvi disc by the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge.

Mäntyjärvi’s extensive choral output extends from the humorous Pseudo-Yoik to the compellingly sombre memorial to the ‘Estonia’ disaster, Canticum calamitatis maritimae. But choral guru Stephen Layton went further and commissioned Mäntyjärvi to write an entire church service for his choir and for this album. Indeed, the Trinity Service is one of the two principal works on the disc, the other being the demanding Stuttgarter Psalmen, and these are aptly punctuated with smaller pieces.

Having become accustomed to the rather sweet sounds of Finnish choirs doing Mäntyjärvi, this new release from Hyperion comes across as wonderfully sumptuous. Stuttgarter Psalmen is expressive and expansive, and Mäntyjärvi makes effective use of the sounds of the German language. The harmonies in the Trinity Service are also weighty and expressive. Strictly speaking, Mäntyjärvi’s brand of neo- and free-tonality is not really about harmony but about orchestral tonal colours executed through harmony. He is able to do this because as an experienced choral person he has a complete command of how to use registers and textures in a choral context.

It takes a world-class ensemble to fully bring out the sumptuousness of all this harmonic colour, and the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge is just such an ensemble. Their combination of sonorous voice production and utterly precise intonation makes light work even of dense chords in the lower register, and there is power in the upper and lower reaches of their range that makes Mäntyjärvi’s widespread chords ring brilliantly. In Stuttgarter Psalmen, Mäntyjärvi has written a few very nasty dissonances whose power one can truly appreciate only now when they are reproduced with accuracy.

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s works have been recorded on many occasions in the past, to be sure, but he certainly deserves – and perhaps needs – a showcase album by a top-quality choir. For me at least, it was necessary to review and to understand how profound, well-crafted and powerful the music is that this polite, civilised and pragmatic choral professional contemplates within.

Kare Eskola

Mäntyjärvi - Choral Music
Hyperion Records CDA68266