song cycle

  • 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.

  • More Songs from Mira Spektor


    Daytime and Night Songs
    Sarah Mesko, mezzo-soprano.
    Brent Funderburk, piano.
    Michael Laderman, flute. Brian Sanders, cello.
    Stephen Benson, guitar.
    Navona Records 6256
    Total Time:  35:26
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****


    This past summer, Navona released a collection of art songs by Mira J. Spektor, who is one of the founders of the Aviva Players.  The collection explored her deft settings of a variety of texts centered around specific seasonal themes.  There are two brief song cycles and seven additional songs in this new collection.  Here texts are drawn from the work of Phyllis McGinley, Ruth Whitman, Diance Ackerman, and William Dickey as well as some early Renaissance French texts, a lyric by Broadway writer Yip Harburg, and her own granddaughter, Lily Nussbaum.  Spektor has written several film scores and one of the pieces here, “Voice in the Wind” is from her music for the film Double Edge (1992)Mezzo-soprano lends her voice to the interpretations of the collection here.

    The album begins with a gorgeous setting of McGinley’s “Sunday Psalm”.  The earlier release featured this piece as well.  The song opens with a more religious sensibility then moves off into a more modern Broadway recitative for contrast.  The gentle style here continues into “Quiet”.  The harmony moves just a bit beyond a traditional style.  There are a few more text-inspired effects here in this stream-of-conscious type text from the composer’s granddaughter.  Flute and cello add some additional color for the four poems by Ruth Whitman.  It is a rather interesting approach to use these as sole accompanying instruments that then provide a more intricate sound.  The accompanimental aspects of the two solo lines help set the harmonic backdrop over a fluid vocal line that floats across the music.  The flute weaves musically between the vocal line and its own commentary.  The result is a very stunning little cycle.  The songs that follow continue to demonstrate Spektor’s facility with vocal writing and turn of phrase.  Often moving and emotional pieces, the songs here are sequenced to create a beautiful survey of Spektor’s work.  Melodic lines are beautifully shaped here by Mesko as well whose sound is perfect for the pieces chosen in this little recital.  The music again does move through traditional tonality with some modern touches that aid its expressiveness.  One can also hear some of the musical theater experience shining through in these works which certainly aids in their dramatic communication.  Texts in this collection seem slightly more engaging than on the first collection of songs.

    As with the earlier release, texts (and translations when appropriate) for each of the songs are included.  It bears repeating from our earlier observation that Spektor’s music has its foot in art song and popular song and that will make this second release a wonderful discovery for those who appreciate contemporary vocal writing if the first was overlooked.  The performances here are really more than most composers could hope for with beautiful sound and imaging that enhances the performers very well.  Funderburk proves to be a perfect accompanist here matching the interpretive approach well.  It is unfortunate that both collections could not be on a single disc as they would have easily fit.  That said, it is worth picking up both to enjoy this wonderful engaging music.