We're all familiar with electronic music that tries to sound orchestral; every low-budget TV drama is full of it. What's not so well known are those classical composers who want to make the orchestra sound electronic. A perverse aim, you might think, but in the hands of a composer as skilled and imaginative as Kaija Saariaho it gives a new, glistening colour to the orchestra. And there's a poetic aspect to this odd enterprise, too. The way the sounds bend and thicken reminds you of natural processes.
The two orchestral pieces make a good pairing, as the things they evoke are opposites. Du Cristal, as the name suggests, is crystalline, suggesting light beams bent and refracted into myriad colours. À la Fumée evokes the swirling nature of smoke. But, like the first piece, this isn't just pictorial - there is a real musical argument. Out of the cloud of sound more familiar things emerge: a pulse, a major chord, even a little melancholy melody.
Alongside the orchestral pieces is Nymphéa for string quartet and electronics (though the quartet produces such odd sounds it's hard to know where its contribution ends and the electronics begin - which is exactly Saariaho's point). Rounding off the CD is a rendition of Sept Papillons for solo cello by Anssi Karttunen. All of the performances are wonders of sensitivity, though Karttunen's is the most mesmirising of all.Ivan Hewett, The Times - The Eye, 7/24/2004
In terms of style, Kaija Saariaho has achieved what many Finnish composers have struggled for in vain - to move completely out of the shadow of Sibelius. The orchestral diptych Du Cristal … à la fumée (From crystal … into smoke) in particular shows how much her palate has been enriched and refined by her encounter with the French avant-garde. But her preoccupation with organic growth and the sights and sounds of nature shows that, on a deeper level, the debt to Sibelius remains. It makes her musical processes easier to follow than the sometimes garish, serrated modernist colours and textures (prominent in the opening of Nymphea) might lead you to expect. On a deep level one can feel that this is music that is moving somewhere. Stay with that, and you might begin to find that Saariaho's sound-world can be enticing, even sensuous, as well as hard-edged and glaring. In fact the Sept papillons (Seven Butterflies) can be as delicately beautiful as their title suggests.
The performances are stunning. Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic combine fastidious precision with an almost Straussian opulence, the Kronos Quartet bring their usual heightened awareness to Nymphea, while Anssi Karttunen's playing in Sept papillons is breathtaking - who'd believe you could create such a world of sound with just a solo cello?Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine, 9/1/2004
…first rate performances … music that has much to offer.Fabrice Fitch, Grammophone, 11/1/2004
...a timely reissue from Ondine of her orchestral diptych Du cristal...a la fumée, played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen. The performances were praised enthusiastically on their first release and still sound fine. Alto flautist Petri Alanko and cellist Anssi Karttunen weave their delightful spells afresh in the second part, ...a la fumée, but Du cristal still resonates long in the mind.
As with the original release, the disc includes the Kronos Quartet's mesmeric account of Nymphea. Scored for string quartet and electronics, this remains one of Saariaho's most enduringly influential chamber scores and still has the power to amaze and impress. Added to the original programme now is Karttunen's sensitive performance of Sept Papillons, a delicate-but-sturdy set of solo cello studies. New to commercially available CD, the intimate Sept Papillons should enchant both those familiar with her music and new admirers..., Nordic Sounds, 5/1/2005