Soile Isokoski in recital
Robert Schumann: Liederkreis, opus 39
Toivo Kuula: Four Songs
Richard Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder
Soile Isokoski (Soprano), Marita Viitasalo (Piano)
The Savonlinna Festival’s focus is opera and the 30-day festival features 26 performances of seven productions in the 2000-seat venue in the courtyard of Olavinlinna Castle. As a wonderful adjunct to the main show, a number of more intimate events are held in the 800-seat Savonlinna Hall, a modest-looking (but, in true Finnish form, well-functioning) wooden structure built in 2002. In 2009 there are three song recital scheduled in this venue, the first one featuring the renowned Soile Isokoski, accompanied on the piano by Marita Viitasalo.
The first half of the program consisted of the 12 songs of Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis, opus 39, composed to poems by Joseph von Eichendorff. They were composed in 1840, the year when Schumann composed over 130 songs, including another group titled Liederkreis (opus 24) (liederkreis means “song circle” or group). Each song was delivered as a miniature drama. Especially effective was the cryptic seventh song, Auf einer Burg, which conjures up a sunny day on the Rhine but suddenly in the last line, the beautiful bride weeps. The song ends abruptly without tonic resolution and Ms Isokoski manages to hold us all in suspended animation before turning her (and our) attention to the next piece.
The second half opened with four songs by Finnish composer Toivo Kuula (1883-1918). His death at a relatively young age was somewhat operatic: he died after being shot on Walpurgis Night during the final chaotic months of World War I. Earlier he fell in love with a singer, Alma Silventoinen, who became his second wife and who inspired the second song on this section, Suutelo (“The Kiss”). He was a prolific composer and his songs are well-crafted with a tonality reminiscent of Greig.
The program ended with the Wesendonck Lieder. These are operatic in nature, even with piano accompaniment, and not just because two of them echo themes used in Tristan und Isolde. Ms Isokoski brings out both their opulence and mystery.
To sum up: here was a deservedly renowned singer at the peak of her career giving a recital in a venue of the right size and intimacy. The other vocal recitals are on July 19 (Camilla Nylund, soprano, also accompanied by Marita Viitsalo), and on July 26 (Eglise Gutiérrez, soprano, accompanied by Danielle Orlando). Ms Gutiérrez performs Lucia di Lammermoor at Savonlinna for the second year running, and is also the festival’s Artist of the Year.