Image © Plastinka Records 2002
(26 Nov 2002) During the latest years vocal ensemble Rajaton has been widely known both in their origin country Finland as well as in several other countries throughout the world. And now the group has been able to gain even more success, thanks to their release Sanat (Plastinka Records (Finland) PLACD 005, 2002). The new album entered the national Finnish Classical chart at no. 3, it also entered a bit later to the national Top 40 chart at no. 22! Not bad at all, since nowadays it is very difficult for a 'classical' album to compete with international and national pop and rock music entries. The other thing that may have influenced to the recent rise of Finnish a cappella music is that Rajaton has been lately given the chance to arrange more radio, TV and live appearances within Finnish media. This has now proved to be an efficient way to boost both the record sales as well as the continuing interest, including both Rajaton's music and a cappella music in general.
Through these years Rajaton has successfully been creating their own, personal aspect towards a cappella music, and with their previous two albums (as well as several concerts in Finland and abroad) they have been continuing to be "boundless" as the group's name indicates. The unique and personal Rajaton sound as well as the idea of embedding various styles to their music plays therefore still a very important role in their music, and this is certainly one way to their success. With their latest release Sanat (literally translated as Words) Rajaton again adds something new and interesting to their repertoire. This time the new album contains twelvepieces of "modern Christian music," according to the group's own definition. To have such a wide variety of styles in use is not always very common among choirs nor vocal ensembles.
The theme on the album being "Christian music," the group chose to make the recording work "live." However, this does not mean that the pieces are taken from a live concert, but the pieces were recorded in an environment that can provide best mood for the album. Instead of going to a studio, Rajaton recorded all pieces "live" at Siuntio Church in Finland, which really gives the music more space to breathe.
Many of us Finns, and also some of the foreigners interested in Finnish literature can notice some familiar names from the lyric providers' list, for example Mr. Mika Waltari ("Aurinkolaulu" / Sun Song) and a poet Mr Aale Tynni ("Stabat Mater" and "Vain taivasta kukkaset katsovat" / The flowers only look at the heavens), while those who have been following Rajaton's career can notice some already familiar composer names as well. For example, a young female composer Mia Makaroff who wrote the music to "Butterfly" (the album "Boundless" 2001) has now provided a rejoicing song "Kaikki maat, te riemuitkaatte" ("Praise the Lord, each tribe and nation"), while another female composer, Anna-Mari "Adiemus" Kähärä, has continued to provide music for Rajaton. This time two songs ("Aurinkolaulu"/ "Sun Song" and "Weary In Well-Doing") are written by her.
In addition to these already familiar composers, also two Rajaton's male members have participated to the composing process (Mr. Jussi Chydenius composed "Vain taivasta..." and "Nearer, my God, to thee" and Mr. Hannu Lepola provided the composition for "Pia Desideria"), which shows how versatile a vocal ensemble can really be. One more composer deserves a special mention here, namely Mr. Jaakko Mäntyjärvi whose compositions have been widely used by a variety of choirs/vocal ensembles throughout the world. Mäntyjärvi has provided two songs to this record, a stunning "Stabat Mater" and a wonderful "Tórramat do nóebaengil". The latter has been one of Rajaton's basic material already since 2000, when the group performed the piece together with Anúna during their concert in a choral festival in Cork (Ireland). The text of the piece is indeed sung in Irish!
Some listeners may also find very familiar Christian songs which have now been re-arranged for this record; pieces such as "Were you there?" and especially the new arrangement of "Iltavirsi" / "Evening Hymn" (which is one of the most loved Christian song in Finland) are just gorgeous. The song entitled "Nearer, my God, to thee" can also evoke some "dejavu" feelings in some people, but the Rajaton version here is not the same that is well-known as the "Titanic Hymn". Instead, this is a totally new arrangement, but it is excellent!
Although the media has been describing Rajaton's latest album as an album of 'modern Christian music', it is neither too modern nor repulsive. The vocal structure is mainly remained "traditionally harmonic", the solo parts are very versatile (alternating between each voice i.e. solos are sung by both male and female singers), and the melodies are catchy enough to be remembered easily and you can hum them along even though you could not pronounce the lyrics. The tempo is also alternating sensibly from one piece to another. This does not mean that there is no wholeness at all; rather the opposite. All of the songs are part of a wonderful and versatile tray full of new musical experiences.
The album Sanat provides, indeed, music for everyone's taste, as well as wonderful new music for all the choirs and vocal ensembles to perform in the future (if only Rajaton decides to publish their songs in sheet music format which I, at least, hope very much). If one feels mellow, then e.g. "Stabat Mater" would be a right choice (if thinking of choirs/ensembles, this would be ideal for the Easter), while e.g. "Kaikki maat, te riemuitkaatte" / "Praise the Lord, each tribe and nation" would be a bit more "happy" song. In this phase as there are not any sheet music available yet, one can, however, read the lyrics (and their translations between English/Irish and Finnish) from the album cover booklet, and, by doing that, get a bit closer to the music itself while listening. The lyrics are also ideal for sing-along.
In my opinion the Christian music has always had a permanent position within various musical genres throughout the world, and because religious songs have always had an important role as part of the repertoire of many choirs, ensembles and orchestras, this album by Rajaton can be concerned as a wonderful source when searching new material for performances. And, although this album is mainly a Christian one, I think that it can appeal to other people as well, regardless of listeners' religions or nationalities. So, just open your mind for the most recent a cappella experience, it may give you more than you could expect! The album "Sanat" may not be available outside Finland as yet, but I hope that the group would be able to release this album abroad like they have done with their two previous albums (Nova & Boundless)! And, while waiting to the possible release of Sanat, why not try to experience a Rajatonconcert? The group has recently been performing live in many corners of the globe, such as Europe and the USA, so check out their current concert calendar. With Sanat, Rajaton has once again been able to prove their name to have a true meaning; they have proved that music can really be a boundless experience!--Suvi Kaikkonen