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Mäntyjärvi - Choral Music

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“It is a triumph in every respect.”

I could have made it very easy for myself by simply referring to my colleague Marc Rochester’s review – a Recording of the Month – and say that I endorse his enthusiasm in every respect, both for the masterly singing of the choir and for the deeply engaging music. But I still want to clarify a few things from my own perspective. Being a Scandinavian myself I have been aware of Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s existence for quite some time, but this is the first time I encounter him as composer of sacred music. I think Marc is right in assuming that this is the first disc devoted exclusively to Mäntyjärvi’s music, and here he shows completely different sides of his artistry from what I have met previously. He describes himself as an ‘eclectic traditionalist, mixing influences from various sources’. I would even go as far as stating that he is a kind of chameleon. I first heard his music almost a decade ago on a collection of Nordic choral music titled “Nordic Sounds 2”, sung by the Swedish Radio Choir, where he was represented by a four-movement suite, Kosijat (The Suitors) from 2001, where he was clearly influenced by Finnish folk music with texts from Kanteletar, a collection of early Finnish poetry. The irregularity of the composition was very much due to the Finnish language. In that respect he might well be an heir to Janáček who in his operas found his own melodic phrases in the Czech language. What I also noticed was the obvious ‘singability’ of the music, even though he often challenge his singers’ vocal range, both up high and down low – the latter an influence from the Russian-Orthodox tradition, which is firmly rooted also in Finland. He also spices his music with untraditional techniques, like glissandos and whispers. Only a couple of years ago he was represented in another collection, “Song of the North” with the marvellous Polish 441 Hz Chamber Choir, where he showed a quite different side of his personality: outgoing, almost burlesque and ironic music with rhythmic verve – “primitive, raw and great fun” as I described it then. I do urge readers to listen to those collections – not only for the sake of Mäntyjärvi.

On the present disc most of those aspects are absent, for natural reasons, but a certain rawness is certainly there. Marc mentions the Nunc dimittis in the Trinity Service and, even more obviously, the second of the Stuttgarter Psalmen. And it is no doubt intentional. Mäntyjärvi was present during recording sessions and could dictate what he wanted. What strikes me most of all is, however, the beauty and seriousness of so much. The opening Ave Maria d’Aoesta is heavenly and the concluding O magnum mysterium remains in my head long afterwards. This is a disc to immerse oneself in and return to – both for the totality and for picking one’s personal plums. It is a triumph in every respect.

Göran Forsling

Mäntyjärvi - Choral Music
Hyperion Records CDA68266