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Mäntyjärvi - Choral Music

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Jaakko Mäntyjärvi is a polymath: he is a singer, conductor and translator, but it is for his work as a composer that he is best known outside his native Finland. Indeed, some of his music has come to be much favoured by choirs all over the world. While, as Francis Pott points out in his admirably detailed notes, Mäntyjärvi’s music depends greatly on an orchestral sense of colour and texture, it is certainly not bereft of counterpoint, and even less is it merely the kind of viscous tonal wash characteristic of so much contemporary choral music.

He knows exactly how to build up a structure that rejoices in both sonorous depth and melodic distinctiveness, rather like Poulenc – try the first of the Stuttgarter Psalmen for an example of this. Characteristic of all three Psalms, too, is a mastery of repetition; that is to say, a knowledge of how often to repeat a phrase, or a variant of a phrase, to create an atmosphere in miniature that is then expanded upon, as is the case with the third Psalm, ‘Richte mich, Gott’.

The most substantial item on the disc is the Trinity Service (2019), written specifically for The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge. It is in fact a setting of the constituent musical elements of Evensong, including the preces and responses. It includes earlier music, but also some pieces written specially for the sequence, notably the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. Each section is very economical and compact – the longest is the Nunc dimittis, at just over five minutes. One of the most interesting sections is the setting of Psalm 128, a fascinating and harmonically memorable refraction of the Anglican psalm-chanting tradition. The Nunc dimittis, in addition to being unusually expansive when compared to the Magnificat, follows the example of Rachmaninov in including at its end an unexpected descent into the subterranean depths, but even lower than the Russian composer (A flat beneath the stave). The disc is rounded out by shorter motets from various dates.

An intriguing selection, then, that brings out the best from the Trinity choir, the sound beautifully captured by Hyperion’s team.

Ivan Moody

Mäntyjärvi - Choral Music
Hyperion Records CDA68266