A plaintive flute melody, ending in a sigh, opens Tocar, the first track on Camilla Hoitenga’s new album Let the Wind Speak. The recording showcases Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s chamber music and it is infused with the close personal relationship between flautist and composer. The album features acoustic works for solo flutes (Hoitenga also plays alto, bass and piccolo) and chamber ensembles, including several new arrangements.
At the heart of the CD is Sombre, a work commissioned in 2012 by Da Camera of Houston for performance in the tranquil space of Texas’s Rothko Chapel. Prefaced by solo bass flute, Sombre is based on fragments of Ezra Pound’s last Cantos, from which the album takes its name: “Do not move/Let the wind speak/that is paradise.” Hoitenga and Da Camera are joined by baritone Daniel Belcher, whose dark voice compliments the timbre of the bass flute.
Tocar, originally for violin and piano, appears in a new arrangement for flute and harp, Hoitenga’s slides and timbral murmurations against Héloïse Dautry’s expressive harp playing. Although the aural quality of the work is very different, Hoitenga’s “flutistic” arrangement of the violin part perfectly captures the atmosphere of Saariaho’s work.
Mirrors, which appears in three different iterations on the disc, is based on texts from Le livre de la licorne by Yvonne Caroutch. Originally part of an interactive CD-ROM, users could create their own version by assembling 48 fragments according to rules determined by Saariaho. The versions on this album are by Saariaho, Hoitenga and Anssi Karttunen, whose cello playing adds throaty depth.
Laconisme de l’aile features intoned words from Saint-John Perse’s poem Oiseaux, while Colours du vent presents shakuhachi-inspired harmonics and resonant whispers. Hoitenga sings into the flute, her powerful attacks almost vocal percussion. Dolce tormento, a work for solo piccolo written for Hoitenga as a birthday gift in 2004, combines spoken text, wind sounds and haunting piccolo slides. Burbling trills and key clicks evoke a dreamlike texture. Hoitenga on bass flute is joined again by Kartunnen for Oi Kuu, an arrangement of a duo for bass clarinet and cello. The rumbling growls of cello and bass flute create a primal texture from which metallic shimmers emerge.
With works cherry-picked from across Saariaho’s career since 1982, this album shines a spotlight on the beauty and intimacy of her chamber music. Hoitenga’s close collaboration with the composer has placed her in a unique position to highlight new facets of older works, but while the varied instrumentation keeps the sound fresh, the new arrangements and interpretations will be of more interest to Saariaho aficionados than casual listeners.