Sunday, 16 August 2009 at 7:00pm • Vandusan Botanical Gardens

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

Reviewer John Jane

It may have been the comfortable mid-August weather that brought the huge crowds out to VanDusen Botanical Gardens for the final concert of 2009 Musicfest Vancouver, but more likely it was the natural ‘word-of-mouth’ promotion that drew folks to see Canada’s favourite Finnish a cappella group and caused the grassy “real estate” in front of the stage to be at such a premium.

The three women and three men come from different musical backgrounds and each brings a unique quality to the synergy of Rajaton (pron. Rye-ah-tawn). Soila Sariola, (alto) Essi Wuorela, and Virpi Moskari (both sopranos) are the female members; Hannu Lepola (tenor), Ahti Paunu (baritone), Jussi Chydenius (bass) are the guys.

The band must have checked their song list from the same gig last year, because they performed many songs new to their repertoire. Although, the show-opener was one that they’ve done many times; the heart-warming “Salty Water” featuring a stirring solo performance by the song’s arranger Soila Sariola, written in collaboration with Canadian Stephen Hatfield, whom I noticed sitting right behind me.

Next was a Tom Waits composition, “Tom Traubert’s Blues” that featured Hannu Lepola. The song was included in their repertoire for a recent Australian tour primarily because “Waltzing Matilda” is repeated throughout.

Rajaton ended a surprisingly brief first set with a pair tunes written by contemporary Finnish composer Mia Makaroff: A humourous madrigal entitled “You can’t stop me” featuring soprano, Essi Wuorela and the ethereal "Butterfly," a spine-tingling original song about the brevity of life.

The Irish melody, “Dubbin’s Flowery Vale” underscoring a sumptuously chorded chorus behind a Hannu Lepola and Essi Wuorela duet got the second set rolling.

The vocal arrangements were impeccable, focusing on a traditionally harmonic structure with about half of the song selection sung in Finnish. The breezy Armottomen Osa and the Finnish entry in the 1989 Eurovision Song Contest, La Dolce Vita were particularly well received.

An unorthodox, jazz-infused rendition of the Lionel Richie song, “Easy like Sunday morning” by Ahti Paunu closed out the show. It was just inevitable that the sextet would return for an encore. The six-member group from Helsinki, didn't disappoint with a crowd-pleasing, over-the-top rendition of ABBA's "Fernando" which featured Jussi Chydenius' skillful use of his bass voice as the percussion section.

Virpi Moskari, saying good-bye on behalf of entire band promised to return next year. That’s great, but hopefully it would be in a concert hall.

© 2009 John Jane