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Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928)
Isle of Bliss (1995) [11.47]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1989) [23.39]
Piano Concerto No. 3 Gift of Dreams (1998) [26.39]
Laura Mikkola (piano)
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Eri Klas
rec. Netherlands Radio Studios, Hilversum, 12-15 Nov 2002 DDD
NAXOS 8.557009 [62.06]

Rautavaara's stylistic pilgrimage took him from a folksy Sibelian directness of utterance through the serial 'forest' and back out into the melodic sunlight.

Isle of Bliss is an example of his re-emergence from the obsession with serial techniques. It is based on a poem, 'Home of the Birds' by Aleksis Kivi (1834-72). Kivi's poetry also inspired Sibelius. This 11 minute piece looks back to the ecstatic melodic flow of the string writing in Cantus Arcticus. It is an intensely romantic hybrid of Delius yet always mobile not static and a pressing Sibelian vigour. Towards the close Rautavaara's writing is reminiscent of Roy Harris; not least in the luminous use of the vibraphone.

The Third Piano Concerto was written for Ashkenazy who played and directed it with the Helsinki Phil in 1999. The first and third of the three movements are a tumultuous ecstatic continuum, calming and animated by turns and continuing the lucid light-suffused mood of Isle of Bliss. The central adagio assai verges on the sentimental with a mood close to that of John Ireland in the Ballade and the Legend for piano and orchestra and of Bliss in the Piano Concerto.

The Second Piano Concerto, written for Ralf Gothoni, is quite a different proposition. It is in three continuously played movements - here tracked separately. Richard Whitehouse, in his admirably supportive sleeve-note, tells us that serial technique is employed but this is just as clearly a work caught on the cusp between the avant-garde and unfiltered melodic address to the greater audience. The central part of the In Viaggio first movement depoys most of the arsenal of modernistic characteristics which carry over into the Sognando e libero (tr.6) and Uccelli sulle passioni (tr.7). That last movement uses the ultra-modern in a deeply poetic way reminding me John Foulds' 1930s masterpiece The Dynamic Triptych for piano and orchestra.

Snap up this outstanding bargain. The Isle of Bliss and the Third Concerto will present no obstacles to appreciation. The Second Concerto requires persistence - stiffen the sinews.

Rob Barnett

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