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Philomela and Marjukka Riihimäki

The Finnish female choir Philomela made such a powerful impression in the Cork Festival 2004 that it has been a pleasure to follow up their most recent CD with others from the 20 year span of development.

Their CD Satakieli shows a conventional line-up in concert robes. It is a good mixed programme, with arrangements of Finnish folk poems, songs by Pekka Kostiainen including a setting of part of the Kalevala, English madrigals by Krenek and Though Philomela lost her love by Morley, and there is an article by a founder member of the choir about her early experiences of working under the determined and dedicated Marjukka Riihimäki, who quickly built up Philomela to national and international fame.

It was interesting this month in Marktoberdorf to learn that five of the six members of Rajaton (a superbly accomplished small ensemble) had been trained by Marjukka Riihimäki in her choirs; they regard her affectionately as the mother of contemporary Finnish choral singing.

Philomela in Dreams has a broad selection of modern and sacred music, composers including Poulenc, Schafer, Lutoslawski, Rautavaara and others; the words set are always full of variety and literary interest.

By the turn of the century, Philomela had become known for its innovatory approach with stage choreography for The Time of the Wolf. The CD Rakkaus repii jäsenet has with it an attractive Sappho Suite by Markku Kilpiö; English translations are provided.

Listen to some of these recordings and wonder, with me, why the finest choral conductors fail to achieve public recognition and fame comparable to those of the hyped orchestral conductors of the day?

These CDs are each sufficiently different to be well worth collecting; the next phase for Philomela must surely be to release DVDs, as suggested after the Cork Festival. They have made a video.and another is planned; these young women demand to be seen as well as heard.

Purchase details from the Philomela website (English language option available)

PHILOMELA at Cork Festival http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/50th%20CORK%20INTERNATIONAL%20CHORAL%20FESTIVAL.htm
The impossibility of reconciling words, music and dramatic choreography was highlighted in the outstanding event (for us) of the whole festival, the late night performance by the versatile and uniquely accomplished Philomela of a sequence of choral songs by Turkka, Matveinen, Kähärä and others, many of them derived from the Kalevala. These young Finnish women had been trained by Marjukka Riihimäki to discover in themselves a palette of tones high and low, sweet and raucous, each girl emerging as a confident soloist from time to time.

One could only begin to guess what they were singing about, but we were rivetted to their singing and expressive bodily language as they moved around the aisles and steps of the beutiful modern interior of Cork's North Cathedral. Only after acquiring their new CD of the same programme could we discover that the texts carry enormous power and resonance in their exploration of women's lives, aspirations and griefs. The complete experience of this programme Mieli is only open to native speakers of their language, and in live performance.

Next best must be the DVD which is crying out to be made (I understand that Philomela's creations have been televised in their native land) and must by example revolutionise the approach to their craft of choir directors and conductors who are fortunate enough to encounter this total musico-theatrical experience and think how some aspects might be adapted in their own presentations. A DVD including optional subtitled texts in a range of languages would combine the best of all worlds in this 'modern world music inspired by folk tradition and archaic folk poetry'.


© Peter Grahame Woolf