Wednesday, 13 August 2008 at 7:30pm • Vandusen Botanical Gardens

Performers Soila Sariola, Essi Wuorela, Virpi Moskari, Hannu Lepola, Ahti Paunu and Jussi Chydenius

Reviewer John Jane

I’m not a particular fan of outdoor concerts. Though, if I have to listen to live music in the open, VanDusen Botanical Gardens would be my venue of choice and on this occasion the weather co-operated fully.

Rajaton (pron. Rye-ah-tawn) has become a staple of Festival Vancouver, having performed at this annual event in the previous couple of years. Their reputation in British Columbia has grown considerably since their first appearance in 2006, helped in no small part by their collaboration with Canadian songwriters Jeff Smallman and Stephen Hatfield and the many workshops they run for local high schools whenever they are in Vancouver.

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 opening song, Pakkanen (Frost) sung in Finnish and written by Rajaton’ own Soila Sariola. This was followed by another tune with a winter theme, a Christmas carol called Joulun Neiet – a strange choice for an open-air concert in mid-August. Both songs were delivered with mellifluous voices with 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 was a heart-warming rendition of Gordon Sumner’s (better known to rock fans as Sting) “I was brought to my senses” featuring a stirring solo performance by tenor, Hannu Lepola and the haunting “Butterfly” a spine-tingling original song about the brevity of life written by contemporary Finnish composer Mia Makaroff.

All six singers appear to have an excellent grasp of English and took turns in introducing the songs. The vocal structure remained traditionally harmonic, with solo parts showcasing the exceptional solo voices of various members of the group.

In contradiction to the popular notion that Finns take life seriously, the sextet displayed their lighter side with some of their weightless fare; principally, with a crowd-pleasing cover of ABBA's "Fernando" which featured Jussi Chydenius' skillful use of his bass voice as the percussion section and an over-the-top rendition of David Bowie’s rock anthem, “Under Pressure” that the band saved for the encore.

Rajaton know that there must be substance to entertainment, so they put the music first. Moreover, great weather and a huge good-humoured crowd went a long way to making this a concert to remember.

© 2008 John Jane