OPERNWELT september / oktober 2014
CLASSICAL ICONOCLAST: Komsi Oramo Prom Russian (and other) Fairy Tales
Wonderfully evocative! In BBC Prom 49, Sakari Oramo conducted the BBC SO showing how exotic dreams and magical tales still inspire creative art. The soloist was Anu Komsi, Oramo's wife and twin sister of Piia Komsi, both coloraturas with such remarkable range that they've inspired several works written specially for them.. Although this Prom was billed "Russian Fairy Tales" it could well have been billed as a showpiece for Anu Komsi's exquisite singing. .
Ravel's Mother Goose Suite (Ma mère l'oye) created the perfect mood. Lustrous, shimmering textures, sparkling with light and delight. Fairy Tales are beautiful, but strictly speaking they're wasted on children. As Bruno Bettelheim demonstrated decades ago, fairy tales deal with the subconscious, and are a lot darker than they're made out to be. Beneath the gossamer in Ravel's music lie details which suggest something more sinister. Hollow-sounding woodwinds, brass like the call of hunting horns. Could the high-pitched violins suggest pain and longing? Do the horns suggest hunting, or death? Why is the princess of the pagodas, Laideronnette, supposed to be ugly? No answers. In this magical realm answers mean less than dreams.
In Jukka Tiensuu: Voice verser (2012?), Anu Komsi's voice operates like a magical force of nature. Her tessitura is so high it seems almost unearthly, and her projection so powerful that her voice seems to stretch into infinity. High winds and strings cry out, like high-flying sea birds. Strings form elliptical sounds like waves. Immediately I thought of Sibelius Luonnotar (more here) where the voice represents the primeval being who created the universe, after swimming for centuries in an endless ocean. When Komsi's voice switches from extended legato to sudden staccato, she makes gasping sounds that could be Luonnotar giving birth to the earth, stars and skies. Yet for all this extreme virtuosity, this is a quirkily humorous piece which suggests play and joyful interaction between singer and orchestra. This is music with wit and and spirit, proving that "new" music can be fun and spark the imagination. We can also hear why so many are in love with Komsi's voice. She's technically superb but can also convey warmth and feeling.
Amazingly, Komsi recovered her voice after the interval, to sing Karol Szymanowski's Songs of a Fairy Tale Princess. Komsi and Szymanowski could have been made for each other. Both favour tessituras so high that that they seem to defy gravity. Much of Szymanowski's output created parts for violin, where only the best violinists can sustain extended lines at the top of register. Komsi makes great feats sound easy. Szymanowski's fantasy was far more than lush reverie. In the years before 1914, he visited the Middle East and North Africa, fascinated by the exotic sounds he heard. Like many composers in his time, Szymanowski was searching for alternatives to western tradition. There's nothing tame about this ulullating legato, these strange leaps up and down scales.
In the first song, The Lonely Moon, the phrases cry out like imams calling the faithful to prayer, designed to carry over vast distances. Perhaps this is intentional, for the mood suggests longing, reaching out towards something that can never be grasped. The trills and melismas in The Nightingale allow Komsi's voice to flutter like a bird trying to escape its cage. In The Song of the Wave, Szymanowski catches the idea of surging movement, sparkling arpeggiatos dancing over rolling rhythm. The ocean is beautiful, but the sailor might drown. Whether the singer is lover or Nereid hardly matters. Szymanowski wrote the songs for voice and piano in 1913 orchestrating the three above in 1933 when he'd rediscovered Poland and modernism. At this Prom we hear Sakari Oramo's new orchestrations for the three other songs, sensitively in keeping with Szymanowski's style yet sympathetic to the uniquesness of Komsi's voice. Infinitely better than the pointless, unidiomatic orchestration of Butterworth Andrew Manze used in his Lest We Forget Prom last week.
To complete this evening of exotic dreams, Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherazade. Yet again Oramo weaved his magic. The BBC SO played with great beauty, not disguising the little dark details that conceal what Sheherazade will be faced with if she can't spin more tales of fantasy.
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oramo
By Hilary Finch
The following evening Sakari Oramo and his soprano wife Anu Komsi spun stories by Ravel (Mother Goose Suite) and Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade), in another four-star concert. At its centre were two marvels. The UK premiere of Jukka Tiensuu's Voice verser revealed a daring and hilarious three-movement piece which Komsi has called "an ironic coloratura concerto". The voice, weeping and groaning, then giggling uncontrollably (yet with meticulous control) teases and taunts both the orchestra and two chamber groups positioned in the arena. And Oramo had completed Szymanowski's hitherto partial orchestration of his Songs of a Fairy Princess, sung with lunar beauty and enraptured virtuosity by Komsi.
www.classicalsource.com - Prom 49: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo with Anu Komsi – Mother Goose, Voice verser, Songs of a Fairy Princess, Scheherazade
www.telegraph.co.uk - BBC Proms 2014, Prom 49, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo, review: 'fairy tale flavour' - Telegraph
FAZ: "Schneewittchen singt phänomenal"
'Soprano Anu Komsi made the fifth and most popular of the Bachianas brasileiras gleam radiantly and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under chief conductor Sakari Oramo never stinted on the high-octane Brazilian carnival atmosphere. After such a hair-raising evening of non-stop virtuosity the BBCSO's trumpeters probably had to go home and sleep for a week.'
" Aarre Merikanto´s "Ekho" ( 1922) based on Koskeniemi´s retelling of the Greek myth, is a tone-poem-cum-song that may have been suggested by the example of Sibelius´s "Luonnotar" (1913), but there likeness end. Ekho is a very different kind of work, a ravishing beautiful score, impressionistic and dramatic, passionate and mysterious by turns, wonderfully sung by Anu Komsi. It baffled its first listeners yet it is worth the price of the disc alone."
Guy Richards/ Gramophone September 2013
Le Domaine privé de Kaija Saariaho
BBC Music Magazine Awards 2013 - Premiere recording award
D'Om Le Vrai Sens, Laterna Magica, Leino Songs
Kari Kriikku (clarinet), Anu Komsi (soprano); Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Anu Komsi: BEING BEAUTEOUS on ALBA Classical Reviews - Vocal Collections Saturday, 24 November 2012
New release: Coloratura
BIS Boss Robert von Bahr: I have heard Anu Komsi on several occasions, both live and recorded and have always marvelled at her range, expression and seemingly effortless rendition of vocals that should be impossible. At one concert with the Royal Stockholm PO, she actually took a high D in pianississimo and held it unvaweringly for over 20 seconds!!!!!! Incredibly impossible!! It was like a sinus tone. So I thought that she could do what noone has done so far, ever, namely to sing the Sibelius Luonnotar according to the score, which requires the soprano to sing a long high C flat in ppp as an echo, after having just sung it in fortissimo the bar before. So I asked her to build a programme around Luonnotar and the Glière Concerto for Coloratura and she obliged. And how she obliged! This is what makes me so proud to be in this profession - to have the power to get things done that wouldn't otherwise have been possible. Same goes for the coupling, the chamber opera "Döbeln" by the newest star on Finnish composers' sky: Sebastian Fagerlund, starring Anu Komsi in the lead rôle. I'll stop here. You listen instead. That both records are conducted by superstar conductor Sakari Oramo (Rattle's successor in Birmingham) really dots the "i".
MusicWeb International / William Hedley:
Being Beauteous review
Gramophone May 2012: Being Beauteous
Part 1, Part 2
Der Tagesspiegel - Kurz & Kritisch Von Christian Schmidt (April 17, 2012)
Raum & Zeit: Sakari Oramo mit dem DSO in der Philharmonie
La Scena Musicale - The Lebrecht Report: CDs of the week (January 8, 2012 by Norman Lebrecht) - Being Beauteous *****
New Release Being Beauteous CD available, Virtuoso Interpretations of Britten, Henze, Schönberg, Castiglioni and Szymanowski
The internationally known Finnish soprano,
Anu Komsi is praised for the angelic quality in her voice, superb
musicianship, impeccable technique and pitch. She is active both in the
European opera and concert scenes and many contemporary composers
write music for her unique talent.
Anu Komsi has been busy in recording the most ambitious programme and several releases are due to come out for sale during 2011-2012;
- "Being Beauteous" /Alba Records/ Britten, Henze, Castiglioni, Schönberg, Szymanowski
- Saariaho: "Leino Songs" / Ondine Records
-"Coloratura Arias" / BIS Records/ Gliere, Mozart, Sibelius, Aljabiev, Delibes
'Pyrotechnic grace' [New York Magazine]
'Wonderful finnish soprano' [Times]
'A marvel as always' [Telegraph]
'Luminous' [New York Times]
'Bravourös Anu Komsi' [Opernwelt]
'Fabelhafte Anu Komsi' [Neue Zürcher Zeitung]
'The best Luonnotar I have ever heard' [Guardian]
Blog: I'll think of something later
Post: Sibelius's 'Virgin' Symphony?
Download critique: Salzburg Nachrichten 13.8.2011: "Jubel für Anu Komsi als grossartige Antiopernheldin" [jpg]
Download CV - English/Finnish 2014, Deutsch 2014, [ pdf ]
Artist's management Raab & Böhm