It was inevitable;
the composer of "Angel of Light"
and other angel-titled works sooner
or later would have to give us a harp
concerto. While there’s nothing here
in the notes suggesting any sort of
angel theme, those already fond of Einojuhani
Rautavaara’s mysterious, almost celestial
music of the Symphony No. 7 and other
works will find much to relish about
The Harp Concerto is
admirably played by Marielle Nordmann,
backed by the Helsinki Philharmonic
and conductor Leif Segerstam.
Rautavaara’s own notes
to this disc tell us that, in writing
the Harp Concerto for the Minnesota
Orchestra, he added two harps in the
orchestra, in addition to the solo harp
"because I wanted to create a really
full and lush harp sound when needed."
Rautavaara also had
two harpists review the concerto and
make technical comments as he was writing
it. He employs unusual harp techniques
and effects such as "gushing chords"
and "thunder effects."
A high point of the
work is in the final movement, where
the three harps engage in a dialogue
with the orchestra.
Even more impressive,
for me, is the Symphony No. 8, "The
Journey" (in Finnish, ‘Matka’).
I believe I like it better than Rautavaara’s
Symphony No. 7, "Angel of Light,"
and I like No. 7 very much indeed.
here add a lot of value to this Ondine
offering. He seems to be talking about
his journey as a composer as his own
view of the symphony evolved to his
understanding of it, not as a form "but
as a particular way of thinking in music."
Here’s the composer
speaking for himself: "According
to Milan Kundera, symphonic music is
a journey through the world, through
ever-changing landscapes. It can, I
think, also be a journey through human
life. The title of my Eighth Symphony,
The Journey, also had a concrete
reason; one of the motifs in the third,
slow movement is sung in one of my operas
to the words ‘This journey goes on …
whose is it? – Of one who wanders from
the end of the journey? … beyond time?
aside, this symphony, with its strong
sense of nature, can also be heard as
a physical journey. It gives me the
sense of looking out on vast, northern
fells and forests – the sort of feeling
some listeners think they hear in Eduard
Tubin’s Symphony No. 8. This is, after
all, the composer who gave us Cantus
Arcticus, a concerto for birds and orchestra
set in an arctic marsh.
From the brooding,
low, beginning of the work, long swells
of sound rise gradually. Rautavaara
employs the woodwinds toward the very
end of the first movement (listen at
about 10.37 into the movement, and again
at 11 minutes) to make something like
birdcalls. It’s hard not to hear the
Rautavaara of Cantus Arcticus at
The second movement,
Feroce, is as brief as a passing
storm (3.04), (suggesting to me the
second movement of Rautavaara’s No.
7). It’s followed by two more long slow
movements, marked Tranquillo (tense
with a fragile beauty something like
raindrops) and Con grandezza.
It’s in this last movement
that Rautavaara shows himself to be
a great symphonist. It’s clear that
he does indeed view the symphony as
a kind of thought process, and that
in this work he uses the last movement
to sum up what he is saying. There’s
no question that he finishes the work.
And he does it with a sense of nobility
and grandeur that is worth hearing again
For want of other touchstones,
I thought of Ralph Vaughan Williams’
several times in my first listening
to this symphony. Part of that is the
bell-like, strange opening of the last
movement of No. 8, which evokes for
me the first movement of the RVW No.
8. But some of the horn passages in
Rautavaara also made me think of similar
horn passages in RVW’s Symphony No.
5 and his Pastoral Symphony.
The very bigness of
the sound also made me think of Bruckner,
especially in the third and fourth movements.
It’s not as though the orchestra begins
playing a new movement – it’s more like
the shifting of continental plates.
One of my surprises is in looking at
the program afterward and seeing that
the Symphony No. 8 fills only about
29 minutes. Rautavaara seems to have
compressed time; somehow to have said
something so monumental in a mere half
Sound is excellent.
A disc well worth hearing, and having.