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Ave Maria – En Plein Air
Release Date: October 30, 2015
Let me preface this by saying I know very little about Opera. My knowledge is limited to an unhealthy obsession with Sarah Brightman’s voice and an intimate knowledge of The Phantom of the Opera’s score. What I am is a longtime fan of Tarja Turunen’s body of music. From Pop to Metal, the Finnish powerhouse has successfully delivered it all in a semi-operatic vocal style, so it only makes sense that she would try her hand at an “official” Opera/Classical release.
Ave Maria sounds exactly like you would expect it to. Turunen’s gentle soprano is more dynamic here than it is on her other releases and it is prominently featured overtop of the orchestra on most of the versions represented here. Although I really don’t understand a word she says, it’s surprisingly moving nonetheless. That speaks volumes about both the song/prayer and the voice delivering it. All of the songs are among the 4,000 versions of “Ave Maria” (a traditional intercessory prayer offered to the Virgin Mary) that have been breathed into existence over the years, including a new take composed by Turunen herself.
My favorite here is definitely the “Camille Saint-Saans” version. When cranked at full volume it completely engulfs you. It’s a terribly sad sounding piece and Turunen’s voice is otherworldly. Other highlights include the softly orchestrated “Charles-Marie Widor” version which has a more romantic sound to it and the “J.S. Bach/Charles Gounod” piece, which is much shorter than the others and features hardly any instrumentation, reminding me very much of the powerful simplicity of the doxology.
Turunen’s take on the prayer is quite interesting as well. It opens with a narrative piece, which puts the song forth as a prayer first and foremost, thus distinguishing itself immediately from many other versions. As per her background, this version is a bit more haunting as well. A soft pipe organ guides the song as Turunen’s voice once again takes center stage. Her restraint on this one is notable as well. It lends a softer feel to the overall piece and makes it slightly less operatic in the end. It’s also got a great pipe organ solo. You just don’t hear enough pipe organ solos these days.
As an outsider, I found this album to be both beautiful and fascinating. It’s certainly not something I could listen to all the time but it’s very calming and goes great with meditation and Chai lattes. If you need a break from the grind, Ave Maria- En Plein Air will take you there.
Reviewed by Mark Fisher