Thursday 24 December 2009


The magic word had us all smiling: Soile Isokoski (right), her pianist Marita Viitasalo, the man behind the camera (me) and a handful of remaining diplomatic onlookers at the Finnish Ambassador's Residence. English-speakers say 'cheese' - or something quite unrepeatable, which Robert Tear uttered and surely got us all laughing at the Beeb the other week; the Finns invoke their favourite fresh-water fish.

This made me especially jolly as I became addicted to muikku at Savonlinna in 2008. Anneli Halonen, who fixed for Soile to sing to a privileged few last Sunday, always brings us some when she's over (which is, alas, all too rare these days). She'll be pleased to see the results of her Christmas concert, and here's one of the tins she gave us, alas past its sell-by date but given a new lease of life as artfully placed on my Savonlinna-at-sunset screensaver.

Well, I feel a bit of a cad and a bounder, not having been too sold on Isokoski's Marschallin (Gavin Plumley felt differently at a later performance). This little concert reminded us of why she's up there as a top lyric soprano. The magic really started with several Schubert songs I ought to know but don't, and consequently missed the finer nuances of Goethe's German. I'd also forgotten that 'Ave Maria' is really the song of Walter Scott's Ellen, and Isokoski put the urgent pleading across very movingly.

I heard the late, lamented Soderstrom in the voice when she turned to Bernstein's 'I hate music' kiddies' cycle. Musorgsky's Nursery it ain't, and it can be very icky, but not as done here. And the Kuula songs, though I understood not a word, showed more power and an easy, gleaming top which we hadn't really heard at the first night of the Covent Garden Rosenkavalier. I do think our Soile could present rather charmingly a la Soderstrom; in company she has such an easy manner and such vivacious, attractive eyes. Here's another shot with the lady who now holds the Suomi fort on the London-based cultural front, the delightful Pirjo Pellinen. Kippis!

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