Naxos has put us in their debt by making this
series of recordings by a man who is currently the most famous
of Finland’s living composers. There have been recordings of some
of the symphonies, and now this disc, coupling two of the composer’s
three piano concerti. Due to the popularity of Rautavaara’s symphonic
music, there are quite a number of alternative recordings of many
of his works. The piano concerti 1 and 2 have already been recorded
on Ondine by Ralf Gothoni, and he was the dedicatee of No. 2.
The composer in his early years composed in serial terms and it
was not until this gave way to a more tonal sound picture that
the works began to grow in popularity. The first piano concerto
was the start of this move, and by the time we reach the second
concerto, the tonal sound picture is firmly established.
Laura Mikkola has already recorded the first
concerto for Naxos, coupled with the Cantus Arcticus and
the Third Symphony and this was well received by the critics.
The current release allows you to complete your collection of
the composer’s concerti, not only at a ridiculously low price,
but also in superb modern sound with excellent performances.
Ondine has the benefit of having also recorded
the dedicatee for the third concerto, Vladimir Ashkenazy, both
playing and conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Once
again, Laura Mikkola gives a performance which is every bit as
good as the competition, and whilst I could say that the Ondine
recording is slightly better, the Naxos release should certainly
not be downscored for this, unless you are an ardent hi-fi buff.
Rather than the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
in the earlier release, Naxos has moved to the Netherlands to
record the current disc, and the Dutch orchestra is a match for
the Scots. The recording is of the highest broadcast quality,
which means clear and wide-ranging, and the artists concerned
may be very proud of their undertaking.
In addition to the piano concerti, the Naxos
disc is filled out with a performance of Isle of Bliss,
also recorded for Ondine by Leif Segerstam, coupled with the Viola
Concerto and Angels and Visitations. Eri Klas is every
bit as good a conductor as Segerstam in this repertoire, and no-one
should be in the least bit worried about the competition. Similar
comments apply to the recording quality on both the issues, and
the Naxos disc is not compromised in any way. In fact, I prefer
the natural quality of the cheaper issue rather than the hi-fi
aspects of the Ondine issue.
Isle of Bliss was inspired by a poem of
Alexis Kivi (1834 – 1872). It was written in 1995 for the orchestra
of the Espoo Music Institute. The poem depicts the mythical concept
of the island paradise. The piece follows roughly the content
of the poem, starting with a lively opening, leading to reflective
passages of woodwind, evoking time standing still. Then, a passage
of expressive string writing, evoking the arrival of dawn, completed
by the return of the initial section, leading to silence.
I recommend this issue very highly. It is an
admirable way of expanding your collection from Rautavaara’s impressive
catalogue of works.
See also review by Rob
Barnett September Bargain of the month