Date 15 August 2007 at 8pm Venue Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Reviewer John Jane

When a vocal ensemble call themselves the English equivalent of Boundless and claim Bobby McFerrin as one of their fans, they set up pretty high expectations with their audience. Fortunately, at Wednesday evening’s sold-out festival concert at the Chan Centre, this amazing six-member a cappella group from Helsinki, certainly did not disappoint.

Rajaton's (pron. Rye-ah-tawn) reputation in Canada has grown considerably over the past few years, helped in no small part by last year’s outstanding festival concert at Vancouver Christ Church Cathedral and their collaboration with Canadian songwriters Jeff Smallman and Stephen Hatfield.

The three women and three men of Rajaton come from different musical backgrounds and each offers a unique quality to the band's synergy. Soila Sariola, (the redhead) Essi Wuorela, (the brunette) and Virpi Moskari (the blonde) are the female members; Hannu Lepola, Ahti Paunu, Jussi Chydenius are the guys.

The mood was set with the two opening tunes, sung in Finnish and specifically written for Rajaton by the young contemporary Finnish composer Mia Makaroff that were delivered with mellifluous voices and a genuine passion for the music.

Some of their native repertoire, while compelling, was a tough listen for a non-Finnish ear. Not understanding a word of the Finnish language, I felt that I was missing something vital and couldn’t fully appreciate how the text had been crafted into song.

The apportioned split between the group’s English and Finnish programme was roughly fifty-fifty. Among the most enjoyable English language songs were a heart-warming rendition of Stephen Hatfield’s “Salty Water” featuring a stirring solo performance by alto, Soila Sariola and a Jeff Smallman composition, the haunting “Where the Wind Blows” featuring a sumptuously chorded chorus.

Rajaton were not above having fun with some of their weightless fare; principally, with an over-the-top rendition of David Bowie’s rock anthem, “Under Pressure” and a crowd-pleasing cover of ABBA's "Fernando" which featured Jussi Chydenius' skillful use of his bass voice as the percussion section.

Other highlights included Sting’s jazz inflected, romantic ballad “I was brought to my senses” which featured tenor, Hannu Lepola and "Butterfly" a spine-tingling original song about the brevity of life, that the band saved for the encore.

The singing was impeccable, and the song selection eclectic. All six singers appeared to have an excellent grasp of English and took turns to introduce the songs. The vocal structure remained traditionally harmonic, with solo parts showcasing a diverse range of musical styles.

Rajaton once again affirmed that Canada and Finland have more in common than just climate and ice hockey. The sextet demonstrated the highest standards of composition, performance, and balance that made this innovative performance of new and traditional music a concert to remember and gave open-minded festival concert-goers an interesting cultural experience.

© 2007 John Jane