SAARI­AHO L’amour de loin (Harmonia Mundi)

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos -

The Amer­i­can-pre­miere pro­duc­tion of L’amour de loin by com­poser Kaija Saari­aho and li­bret­tist Amin Maalouf was at Santa Fe Opera in 2002. The score im­pressed at the first hear­ing, even more at the sec­ond and third. It has re­cently ap­peared on a dou­ble SACD set in a lu­mi­nous stu­dio per­for­mance in which Kent Nagano leads the Deutsches Sym­phonie-Orch­ester Ber­lin with pre­ci­sion, breadth, and tonal sen­si­tiv­ity. The work un­folds at a glacial gait; oper­a­go­ers will re­mem­ber the ship of the Aqui­tanian trou­ba­dour creep­ing across the stage at a snail’s pace as he trav­eled in quest of his ide­al­ized love in­ter­est, the Count­ess of Tripoli. The mu­sic is nonethe­less grip­ping. Saari­aho’s scores have some­thing in com­mon with Jack­son Pol­lock’s can­vases: the over­all im­pres­sion may be mon­u­men­tal and granitic, but the sur­face teems with dense fig­u­ra­tion and tin­gling en­ergy. The vo­cal lines, of­ten de­rived from me­dieval song con­tours or chant­like can­til­la­tion, are su­per­im­posed over the or­ches­tral fab­ric with styl­ized de­tach­ment. While the Amer­i­can bari­tone Daniel Belcher is en­tirely laud­able in the role of the trou­ba­dour, Rus­sian so­prano Eka­te­rina Lekhina is out­stand­ing, in­vest­ing the count­ess with vo­cal va­ri­ety and psy­cho­log­i­cal com­plex­ity. But the para­mount hero of this pro­duc­tion is Nagano, who, within his reper­toire niche, can be with­out peer. Un­der his ba­ton, Saari­aho’s mu­sic blooms with Mes­si­aen-like color. — James M. Keller

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