November 4, 2019

  • On Timbres and Sounds: New Music by Maija Hynninen


    Dawn Breaks
    Jaana Karkkainen, piano.  Mirka Malmi, violin. Kyle Bruckmann, oboe.
    Maija Hynninen, electronics.
    Tuuli Lindberg, soprano. Hanna Kinnunen, flute.
    Lily-Marlene Puusepp, electric harp.
    Mikko Raasakka, clarinet/bass clarinet.
    Anna Kuvaja, piano.
    Ravello Records 8021
    Total Time:  62:37
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Finnish electro-acoustic composer Maija Hynninen (b. 1977) presents four of her unique explorations of sound and electronics on this new release.  The album features recordings made over the past nine years.  Hynninen explores how the sound, or timbre, of a particular instrument can provide a touchpoint for further elaboration an electronic manipulation.  Three pieces feature different solo instruments paired with intriguing soundscapes that tend to further dissolve and evolve the musical material in her work.

    Jaana Karkkainen begins the album with winnowing (2010), a work for piano and electronics.  The piano material itself is cast in a more modern vein and for the first third of the piece we are hearing mostly this, but soon more contemporary effects begin to appear both made acoustically (such as strumming piano strings) and then more electronically.  Here Hynninen uses the sounds of flying birds and bird chirps that are floated between the channels of sound here.  The effect is quite striking.  In sicut aurora procedit: as the dawn breaks (2015), the solo instrument is violin.  The violin line incorporates an antiphon by Hildegard of Bingen as its source material which is then further expanded by a prerecorded vocal line (reminiscent of Crumb in the way these elements are combined).  Other recorded sounds also become part of the musical picture created here.  The music explores a slow appearance of motives and sounds in further demonstration of Hynnenin’s dramatic writing in a quite haunting piece.  For the final solo work, Freedom from Fear (2019), the oboe gives Hynnenin more opportunities to explore sound from incorporating additional key clicks and other sound material that can add to the rhythmic and expressive aspects of the music.  The line itself is shaped by a the Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi in a work that dramatically connects to the events of Burmese chaos in that country.

    The five-movement Orlando-Fragments (2010) has a slightly expanded instrumental palette adding flute, electric harp, clarinet/bass clarinet, and piano in addition to the piano and electronic components.  The texts are by Henrikka Tavi and are based on scenes from Virgina Wolff’s novel Orlando.  Here Hynninen explores text setting in ways that allow the vocal line to be manipulated in ways that help also parallel the dramatic changes over time that are the focus of these texts.  The pure vocal tone created by Lindeberg is quite stunning and the sounds that surround it further enhance this quality.  The addition of solo instrumental lines are also another interesting touch as they mimic and interact with the voice.  The music here lies in similar avant-garde song cycles of Schoenberg and later Crumb, of which this is a natural successor to those types of approaches.

    Throughout this release, one is struck by the almost cinematic dramatic shaping of this music.  Hynninen’s contemporary style allows for the music itself to often feel far more tonal which first draws the listener in before it then begins to spiral toward a more modern and atonal sense, often further enhanced by the addition of unusual performance techniques and the electronic integration of her material.  It is a rather fascinating journey for those intrigued by the way composers are exploring electronics and concert music.  Here, the music is aided by a sense of programmatic inspiration that helps guide the listener.