Tarja Turunen and Harus: In Concert – Live at Sibelius Hall

Tarja Turunen and HarusSynopsis: 2011 release from the Finnish Metal vocalist and former member of Nightwish. It’s widely known that Tarja’s musical background is classical music and her voice classically trained. After the enormous success with Nightwish and two gems of heavy rock solo records, Tarja goes back to her first love for a while. Tarja Turunen & Harus represents the start of a new journey, crossing genres and musical cultures. Harus is a rather peculiar, uncommon Finnish word that describes the four tensors that keep a tent together or the tensor that keeps the mast from falling in a sailing boat. Both of the meanings apply to this line up: four members, four equals, four different backgrounds to tie together exquisite classical music developed strongly and in a very stable way, with a taste of experimental, modern feel.  

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Tarja Turunen and Harus: In Concert – Live at Sibelius Hall 7.0

eyelights: the setting. the atmosphere.
eyesores: Tarja’s attempts at heartfelt sentiment.

Tarja Turunen is a solo artist who originally made her name as the Nightwish‘s first singer. Since being dismissed from the band in 2005, she has released four studio albums (two of which have gone platinum in her homeland) and two live ones, along with a handful of EPs and singles. She has also collaborated with a large number of other artists.

A soprano, she has a very distinctive style of singing – something which Nightwish used to their benefit. But I was never all that keen on it. While I like some opera, I’ve always found her delivery unnatural, particular her pronunciation. Be that as it may, I was still interested in following her after she left the band.

I picked up two of her studio albums, ‘My Winter Storm’ and ‘What Lies Beneath’, which were stylistically nestled somewhere between what she did with Nightwish and Sarah Brightman’s work. Both were good, but not convincing; I’ve listen to them less than expected. Still, when I found this live concert DVD, I felt compelled to pick it up.

‘In Concert – Live at Sibelius Hall’ is a 74-minute Christmas concert that Tarja and Harus performed at Sibelius Hall, in Lahti, Finland on November 25, 2011 and which was recorded for DVD and CD release. The modern three-tiered hall, which is the home of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, is renowned for its acoustics.

I know nothing of Harus and there’s little information on them. I’m not clear if they exist as a group outside of this show and why they were picked by Tarja for this gig but, for this Sibelius Hall concert, they were composed of a jazz guitarist Marzi Nyman, percussionist Markku Khron and world-reknowned organist Kalevi Kiviniemi.

Tarja was not only the singer, she was also the Master of Ceremonies. Her introductions were fairly casual, a strange contrast to the stuffy opera setting. She also delivered faux-heartfelt sentiment, which I found slightly grating; it’s typical in this context but I wish artists would remain silent if they have nothing clever to say.

Next time, I will leave the subtitles off.

The stage is dressed with a starry night backdrop, snowy scenery and white trees. Contributing to the ambiance was a set of light shining on the organist, which gave the impression of stars and/or snowflakes. All that was missing was a snowfall to complete the picture. By the final number, I got my wish.

The set consisted of traditional songs, many of which are Christmas classics, including “En Etsi Valtaa Loistoa” which Tarja described as “the jewel of Finnish Christmas music”. She showed a fascination with “Ave Maria”, playing three versions of it, including one that she had just composed herself two weeks prior.

She left Harus play by themselves for a couple of numbers, “Concert Etude” and “Astral Bells”, which were far too experimental, dissonant, for my taste.  She and the guitarist also left for “Improvisation on Christmas Themes”, which had the percussionist join the organist on the upper level for a chaotic few minutes.

What was amusing (to me at least) was that it got so quiet in between songs that you could hear the clumping of her shoes as she left and returned. You’d think she’s wear something more discreet for the occasion. But, in all fairness, it was so silent in the hall that, at times, you could hear one or two people cough along the way.

There was an intermission halfway through the set, at the 38-minute mark, after the “Improvisation” – no doubt to give the audience a chance to recover. Kidding. I know that Tarja used to take breaks midway through Nightwish’s sets, allowing them to play instrumentals or covers; perhaps it’s to rest her voice? There was also a one-song encore.

My favourite songs were the opening number, “Heinillä Härkien”, that had a delicate, almost elegiac atmosphere to it, Tarja’s “Ave Maria” and “Walking in the Air”, which seemed vaguely familiar to me (it’s a cover of a Howard Blake song for the 1982 telefilm ‘The Snowman’ that Nightwish recorded on their 1998 album ‘Oceanborn’).

1. Heinillä Härkien 8.0
2. Ave Maria Op. 80 6.5
3. Varpunen Jouluaamuna 7.25
4. Maa On Niin Kaunis 7.25
5. Concert Etude 7.0
6. En Etsi Valtaa Loistoa 7.0
7. Arkihuolesi Kaikki Heitä 6.5
8. Improvisation on Christmas Themes 6.5
9. Ave Maria 8.0
10. You Would Have Loved This 7.0
11. Astral Bells 6.0
12. Ave Maria 6.75
13. Walking in the Air 8.0
14. Jouluyö, Juhlayö (Silent Night) 7.5

Aside for the 74-minute main progamme, the DVD features a couple of short supplements:

Interview: This seven-and-a-half supplement begins with behind-the-scenes footage, and then takes us to the stage with the four musicians, who proceed to discuss the origin of the concert, the choice of songs, what they wanted to inspire with this show. It suggests that they’ve done numerous shows together before this one, since 2006. But that’s not really delved into at length; it is a short interview after all. My main gripe is with the audio, which was so severely compressed that is sounded like a bad mp3. 7.0

Photo gallery: This six-minute montage naturally plays to a piece by the quartet (an instrumental one, it should be noted). It’s actually quite excellent because the pictures aren’t just from this show: it shows various halls that they performed in together (including magnificent churches) in different stage dressing, scenery, behind-the-scenes stuff. It’s basically a retrospective of  of the quartet in pictures. And there are some really nice shots in there. 8.0

I enjoyed the Sibelius concert. I didn’t “get” the more experimental material (even though I do like some avant-garde music), but the audience’s cheers were louder for some of those. All in all, it made for a nice Christmas-themed show – it was not traditional by North American standards, but the vibe was contextually befitting.

Although I may not watch the show very frequently, I suspect that I may listen to the CD far more; Tarja and Harus’ music creates a nice atmosphere.

It’s perfect for a quiet, solemn Christmas eve.

Date of viewing: December 6, 2014

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