Kostiainen: Requiem - Matvejeff
Alba Records ABCD 417
Classical - Vocal
Suvi Väyrynen (soprano), Ena Pongrac (mezzo), Simo Mäkinen (tenor), Tapani Plathan (bass)
Jyväskylä Symphony Orchestra
St. Michel Strings
Ville Matvejeff (conductor)
Review by John Miller - November 20, 2017
This is the first sacred musical Requiem I have ever heard that contains a glockenspiel in its accompaniment! That happens in the 2014 Requiem by Pekka Kostiainen, on a World Premier Recording by Alba in this SACD new issue. It was commissioned in west Finland by the Jyväskylä Parish in Vaasa, Ostrobothnia, and its Jyväskylä Sinfonia.
One of the highest Finnish composers, Pekka Kostiainen has worked as a cantor-organist from 1969-1971. In 2000 he renounced his lectureship from Jyväskylä University to concentrate on composing and choral conducting. Having had a commissioned Requiem, he dedicated it to the death of his mother at 2006.
The city orchestra, Jyväskylä Sinfonia, was founded by the Jyväskylä Orchestra Association in 1955. Although it is not very well-known outside Finland, the 38 musicians have made very many recordings. Foreign tours are also part of the orchestral activities. In 2000 alone, the orchestra has performed concerts in Spain, France, Norway and Japan. Since the beginning of 2014, the present chief conductor of the orchestra is Ville Matvejeff (born 1986). Matvejeff has already established himself as an exceptionally wide-ranging musician, enjoying success as conductor, composer and pianist.
The Jyväskylä Sinfonia's string department has been expanded by the addition by St. Michel Strings, a chamber orchestra based in Mikkeli, eastern Finland, and supported by the municipality. It is the third oldest professional orchestra in Finland, founded in 1903 as an amateur ensemble with a professional conductor and a concert master on a monthly payroll. During the following decades the choristers slowly transformed into a professional ensemble. In 1990 the orchestra gained a status of full-time professional orchestra, and at that time the number of employed musicians was 12. Incidentally, no organ is used.
Musica Choir, Finland is directed by Pekka Kostiainen himself; it is a mixed choir of some 30 singers. They were founded under the aegis of the Jyväskylä University Department of Musicology in 1977. In the 31 years since it began, Musica has travelled as far afield as South Africa and nearer home to Germany, Ireland, Estonia and numerous other European countries. In addition to its frequent concerts it has released many discs.
Finally, the Kostiainen Requiem requires a set of excellent soloists:
Suvi Väyryneu, soprano; Ena Pongrac, mezzo-soprano; Simi Mäkinen, tenor and Tapani Plathen, bass.
After the commission of his Requiem and its dedication, Kostiainen made a deep study of many other Requiems. He decided to use the smaller Requiem Missal, removing the Dies irae ("day of wrath"), a poetic composition which speaks of the Day of Judgement in fearsome terms. Given that his composition was being dedicated to his mother, such violence would indeed be inappropriate. For listeners who want to follow texts, they are presented by Alba in Latin, English and Finnish.
Originally, Requiems were meant to be performed in a liturgical service, with monophonic chant. Eventually the dramatic character of the text began to appeal to composers to an extent that they made the Requiem a genre of its own, and the Requiems of composers such as Verdi are essentially concert pieces rather than liturgical works. In the C20th, the requiem became useful for various purposes, particularly dedicating the memory of people killed in wartime. Britten's War Requiem is an example, juxtaposing the Latin text with the poetry of Wilfred Owen.
Kostiainen's approach begins with an introduction from the orchestra, a deep dark pedal from nothing, then comments from woodwind to give way to a beautiful melody from the choir for "Requiem aeternam". "Te decet hymnus" continues without a space, the chorus putting forth the Gregorian chant for "Te deces hymnus", then make it into a sweet choral tune. Finally, "Agnus Dei", nearly always a tender and soulful piece, but just before the end, Kostiainen gives us a very different reading. The Lamb of God i.e. Jesus, has been crucified, abused and tortured, has nonetheless taken way the sins of the world then we beseech Him to grace peace to our dead. The bass soloist, French horns and bassoons present a very grotesque and harsh vision of a bleeding Christ to whom the unaccompanied choir humbly addresses our prayer.
Before and after the "Agnus dei", sections are very serene, lyrical and bright once more. The 'bright' is where, in joy, the triangle and glockenspiel merge with the trumpets and Bass; most unusual but nevertheless appropriate for the text. In the final track (11), "In paradisum" has a wonderful flow, led by the trumpets and with the chorus and soloists all at once, swinging gently like a lullaby. Returning to the soft opening but with the choir set back, a soulful end if ever there was one.
It is interest to make some comparisons with Kostiainen's Requiem and Joonas Kokkonen's Requiem (1989-81). Kokkonen's was recorded by Finlandia with the Helsinki Philharmonic and the Academic Choral Society. Although he used twelve-tone technique, he avoided orthodoxy by occasionally using triads and octaves; he also liked to use the row melodically, giving the successive pitches in the same tone colour; six out of the nine movements conclude in hopeful E major chords. Intonation was dissonant but only partially. Kostiainen's Requiem is not dissonant but mostly Late Romantic in style, except for the "Agnus dei". Kokkonen’s Requiem, written in memory of his first wife, is both a powerful choral symphony and a tender, moving embodiment of consolation. Originally scored for large orchestra, the Requiem can be heard in a version for organ intended to bring the work within the reach of smaller forces. Both of the Requiems are worth listening to.
Recording was done at the Martti Talvela Hall (692 seats, 180sq.) in Finland's south-east Concert and Congress Hall at Mikaeli. The well-known Simon Fox-Gál produced, engineered and edited. The hall has a sharp ambience; when there is an end of music, it's reflected sound comes right out to you as it dies. The orchestra has great clarity as do the chorus behind, with the four soloists at the front standing left to right, evenly spaced. 5.1 does a very good a job providing the spatial arrangements in more detail. Length: 58:23
Alba's production is attractively presented; an autumnal coloured attractive front; the programme is at the back. The booklet has a single page with an intro by Kostiainen; the rest of the space is from the 3-language texts and quite detailed backgrounds of all the musicians in their respective groups. Small photos of the excellent soloists.
I greatly enjoyed this SACD for Kokkonen's often unusual and affectious production, and the orchestra and choir for co-operating so well. The only significant comment which I must pass on: the Musica Choir is rather poor in articulation, making it difficult to keep up with the texts. This doesn't alter the emotions required when singing. The soloists, closer in the ambience, are clearer in their Latin but still sometimes less so. Nevertheless, I think that Kokkonen's Requiem will be attracted by this disc, and listeners in general should try it; a sensual and becalming piece. And it is a worth-while World Premier Recording!
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