9 April 2014

Noble Art Song

It's called Art Song and it's not something I know well although I've heard some at various concerts. This was Finnish baritone, Juha Kotilainen, accompanied by pianist Joel Papinoja. I think of Art Song in the context of chamber music, written to be performed as an intimate experience - usually a singer and accompaniment, often singing poems put to music. But a baritone in full voice at short range is an immense thing! This is firm, forceful, projected like a tenor or approaching deep bass, even with an occasional falsetto. It's a quintessential male experience and I think of dignity and manly striving and worthy royalty as I listen. Worthy royalty is often a myth, but Juha stood proud, little spoken, dignified when not singing and quite intimate and emotionally connected when singing. He sang songs by Nordic composers: Rautavaara and Sibelius are well known; Ollila, Kuula and Hakola were new to me. There was melancholy, romantic thoughts of dreams or the heart or of nature, songs of forest boys and squirrels and spruce and lillies. One series in English put lines of William Blake to music. The Nordic climes are forbidding and poorly forested and I heard reconciliation and adjustment to harsher climes here. This is not music from carefree and prolific Mediterranean places. There's strength and endurance here, but also recognition that nature is awesome and that it demands our adjustment . (Climate change obviously comes to mind). I admired Juka's strength but also his intimately formed words despite powerful projection, and his calm presence. I enjoyed Joel's capable accompaniment, and was particularly taken by his one solo piece, Sibelius Caprice Op.24/3, that flowed into floods of notes. I know nothing of the Finnish or Swedish languages, so I enjoyed for a time matching sung words to written lyrics and Finnish lyrics to English translations. Finnish in its written Roman script seemed to be eminently pronounceable for English speakers. This was an exposure to Nordic compositions in the Art Song style by a monumental voice. Mighty and noble in this space but calm and surprisingly capable in portraying the composers' intimacy.

Juha Kotilainen (baritone) was accompanied by Joel Papinoja (piano) in a program of Nordic Art Song at the Finnish Embassy.

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