Image © Plastinka Records 2007
Rajaton Sings Abba (2006)
(01 December 2007) As a lover of vocal music, it has been great to notice how the living legends of a cappella music such as The Manhattan Transfer, Swingle Singers and The Real Group have influenced the music world so that new, innovative vocal ensembles have started to emerge across the world, nurturing the great tradition of ensemble singing and developing it further.
One of the new generation's ensembles, Rajaton from Finland, has now been entertaining both concert audiences and record-buyers for ten years, and this year they are celebrating this by having an extensive concert tour here in Finland as well as releasing their sixth album, entitled Maa (Plastinka (Finland) PLACD0053, 2007).
It is very great that the new Rajaton album has also been made available outside Finland, because once again the ensemble provides an unforgettable aural experience throughout the album from beginning to end. Like Rajaton's debut album Nova, also the new album Maa has the core idea of composing songs to Finnish (folk) poetry, though this time most of the compositions have been written by the ensemble members themselves. Despite of some similarities between this album and Nova, the music still sounds fresh and new and there are no signs of any copy-catting whatsoever that could disturb those who already know Rajaton's earlier repertoire.
Compositions and the lyrics are all the time harmonically hand in hand with each other, at times one of them being slightly stronger than the other and vice versa. The Finnish poems being the centerpoint for the album, it is obvious that Finnish is the performance language that has been used throughout the album, but luckily the foreign listeners can understand the song meanings by reading the English translations given inside the album cover booklet.
Although Finland and Finnishness are forming the centerpoint on Maa, the music still avoids the dangers of becoming clichéd, too distant or too "exotic". This is one of the thing that makes the album very interesting to listen to regardless of the listener's nationality; the music really embraces the listener, conjuring up lots of different feelings and atmospheres ranging from ever-changing four seasons of Lapland to quiet power of the Finnish nature. Something that cannot be reached by listening just any kind of music!
Especially the very last track of Rajaton's new album, the great new a cappella arrangement of "Valse Triste", originally by Jean Sibelius, deserves a special mention here. Although the original composition features no vocals but a string orchestra, the new adaptation made by Rajaton's bass vocalist Mr. Jussi Chydenius leaves even the most cynic listener gobsmacked as the voices of the singers flow alongside the music beautifully like a mountain brook. Making ANY kind of rearrangement from any work by Sibelius is already a challenge itself, but the newly arranged vocal version of Valse Triste featured on Maa is astonishingly perfect proof of the great skills of Rajaton, not only as singers but as fully fledged musicians.
To summarize, the entire new album is a masterpiece celebrating not only the 10th anniversary of Rajaton itself but also it pays tribute to coinciding Finland's 90th anniversary of independence as well as the 50th anniversary of the death of Jean Sibelius. Highly recommended for anyone who like great vocal music, regardless of nationality!--Suvi Kaikkonen in Oulu, Finland