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Saariaho: La Passion De Simone [Dawn Upshaw, Esa-Pekka Salonen] [Ondine: ODE 1217-5] Hybrid SACD, SACD

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Chemin musical en quinze stations / Dawn Upshaw, soprano - Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra - Tapiola Chamber Choir - Esa-Pekka Salonen, direction


'It remains a serious exploration of the crux between rational and irrational divine and nihilistic - and, as such, requires to be heard.' --International Record Review, June 2013

'Dawn Upshaw does as much with the demanding vocal line as anyone could expect of her, and Salonen and his forces keep everything in sharp focus.' --Gramophone, July 2013

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x98165f48) out of 5 stars 3 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9816fa44) out of 5 stars A most unusual passion worth hearing 29 April 2013
By Daniel R. Coombs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I actually saw the US premiere of Kajia Saariaho's "La Passion de Simone" in LA in 2008 with Esa-Pekka Salonen and Dawn Upshaw. I was quite taken then and am again with this CD premiere of this unusual but ethereal work. Saariaho's music, which I love, is always beset with lush and exotic harmonies and a very other-worldly use of orchestration. The story behind this tense but rewarding masterpiece is that of Simone Weil. Simone was born into a French-Jewish family but she, herself, defied conventional religious views. Her commitment to social justice led her to embrace Marxism and pacifism, while also denouncing Stalin's atrocities, and she volunteered in the Spanish Civil War. She achieved a sort of mysticism and eventually embraced Christianity, denounced Hitler and yet wrote many essays on social injustices and what she perceived as religious hypocrisy. Simone became overwhelmed by feelings of powerlessness during the height of the war and frustrated in her attempts to rejoin the French resistance. Ultimately, she allowed herself to starve to death as an act of solidarity with the victims of Hitler's regime. This grim but transformative reality places Weil in some ways as a "modern" Jean d'Arc and Saariaho's work is written in fifteen "stations" - the analogies to Christ being obvious and which take us through her self-doubt, pessimism, mysticism, self-awareness and - finally - death. There is an off-stage narrator "reader" here who uses extracts from Simone's actual writings among the musings of the soprano whose words serve as an observer to the stages of Weil's life. The chorus, used sparingly, actually, serves in both ways. The effect of the piece is a bit of a blend between the spiritual and the surreal. It is nearly transcendental in places; disturbing in others. Saariaho's score is fascinating and captivating and the forces of the Finnish Radio Symphony and the Tapiola Chamber Choir complement the always amazing Dawn Upshaw under the leadership of Esa-Pekka Salonen, who knows Saariaho's work like few other conductors. If this is one's first exposure to Kajia Saariaho's music, it may prove a little complex, abstract but - nonetheless - beautiful. The SACD recording is spacious and well engineered. If you already a Saariaho fan, this work is an important addition. Highly recommended!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9816f978) out of 5 stars Saariaho! 7 Aug. 2013
By Due Fuss - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I have been a fan of Saariaho's music for some time now and I continue to be impressed. Her work continues to be complex and relevant while remaining both beautiful and accessible. She is well-served here by the always-lovely Dawn Upshaw, who seems particularly attuned to Saariaho's sound world. Salonen excels here, leading the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Tapiola Chamber Choir in nuanced readings of the complex and subtle score. A mysterious and beautiful work that I can't wait to hear again!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98172d74) out of 5 stars This oratorio on Simone Weil shows that the partnership of composer Saariaho and librettist Maalouf is getting tiresome 31 Mar. 2015
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
In 1999, the Finnish composer collaborated with the Lebanese-born French author Amin Maalouf on the troubadour-themed opera "L'Amour de Loin" (see it on a fine DVD from Deutsche Grammophon, or hear another recording of it on a hybrid SACD from Harmonia Mundi). That has proven a fruitful partnership -- Saariaho has continued working with Maalouf on her subsequent dramatic works. Unfortunately, these collaborations are starting to get stale, both in terms of Saariaho's music and Maalouf's librettos. "La Passion de Simone" for soprano, SATB chorus, spoken voice, orchestra and electronics (2006), an oratorio on the life of Simone Weil, is a case in point. Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Tapiola Chamber Choir, with Dawn Upshaw as the soprano soloist.

Simone Weil was a French writer, philosopher and mystic, who died of starvation at the age of 34 during World War II. She had refused food out of solidarity with the victims of the war, which testifies to an iron will. Maalouf's libretto treats her life as a veritable passion, and this work is divided into fifteen scenes evoking the Stations of the Cross. The soprano and chorus are nameless narrators, recounting the events of Weil's life and the emotions she supposedly felt. The spoken voice, another woman located offstage (here Dominique Blanc), recites actual writings by Weil, and her words are amplified and spatialized around the audience.

Musically, this is mainly indistiguishable from nearly any other Saariaho orchestral work from after the turn of the millennium. Sadly, this composer, who was so full of surprises in her early career, has descended into stock gestures. Her work keeps ploughing the same furrow: clouds of sound inspired by the French spectralist school with little melodies nestled within. Those clouds of sound, regardless of the technical wizardry used to make them, ultimately come across as samey, and it often feels like the only way Saariaho knows how to shake things up are sudden explosions of percussion that then subside into more clouds, which is also becoming tiresome. One notices a poverty in Saariaho's treatment of rhythm.

As a longtime Saariaho fan, the only moments of this piece that I found refreshing and attractive were the retreats from broadly scored orchestral music to more intimate pairings of one or two instruments with the soprano (e.g. the oboe with which Upshaw duets at the beginning of the seventh movement). Also, while Saariaho has been interweaving singing and electronically provided speaking voices for a couple of decades now, this is one of the few surround sound recordings (thanks to the hybrid SACD) where a home listener can get a sense of how it works in a concert hall. Still, I do not feel this is enough to recommend this piece.

With regard to the libretto, Maalouf's writing is too cloying and sentimental. The text here abounds with saccharine passages and slavish, uncritical adoration of Weil: "Working with your hands, Simone? You wanted to share the fate of the workers, to melt into their enslaved mass", "Another person would have turned away from the world to care for his own suffering. You turned away from yourself to fix your gaze upon the world". Maalouf adopts a faux-liturgical tone he must have thought appropriate for a passion, but which sounds goofy. Weil is a fascinating historical figure, but there is great controversy about many aspects of her life, and Maalouf doesn't bring us that nuance.

I really hope that one day Saariaho will ditch Maalouf for another librettist, and further develop her musical language.
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