Vocal music has always been an important part
of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s output. That said, one is probably
more likely to call to mind his work in the field of opera and
the major choral work Vigilia, before his contribution
to the song repertoire. As the composer points out in his own
useful booklet notes, song was with him from a very early age.
His father was a singer as was his cousin. Song was often the
starting point from which grew larger, instrumental and orchestral
Perhaps it is significant then that the majority
of song cycles on this disc are from the early years of Rautavaara’s
career. Half of them having been written by the age of thirty.
The latest is from the middle 1980s although even this cycle,
In My Lover’s Garden, returns to texts of songs now lost,
that were written during the composer’s youth. In this particular
case the Nietzschean words are by Edith Södergran. The style
and content of the poetry set in the other cycles ranges dramatically
from Shakespeare to Rainer Maria Rilke (Fünf Sonette an
Orpheus and Die Liebenden), via the Finnish lyric poet
Aaro Hellaakoski (Dream World) and ultimately to the words
of the composer himself in Matka (The Trip).
Rautavaara is no stranger to producing his own
texts. He has written the librettos to all of his own operas.
The reason that The Trip stands out from the other cycles
on the disc has more to do with its considerable stylistic contrast.
Inspired by a solitary journey to New York where Rautavaara had
formerly undertaken youthful studies at the Julliard School, the
composer set out to write something consciously "different".
In the opening song he creates a nightmarish world of unsettling
atmosphere with clusters and sudden stark outbursts in the piano
part. Although the two central songs give some respite the final
song harks back to the darkness of the opening.
Turning the clock back twenty-five years from
The Trip, both the assuredness of Rautavaara’s technique
and the essential characteristics of his melodic and harmonic
language are evident from the outset in the Three Sonnets of
Shakespeare. Although the composer was later to adopt a more
academic, dodecaphonic style, the familiar chordal progressions
of the piano in the opening bars will immediately have enthusiasts
of the composer feeling at home. The bars following the entry
of the singer even give a fleeting flavour of the modality of
Vaughan Williams although it is Britten that the composer acknowledges
as his influence and in particular the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo.
The first two songs of this cycle, That time of year and
When I do count the clock are both wonderfully atmospheric
settings before the total contrast of a somewhat barmy but fun-filled
setting of Shall I compare thee.
All of the other cycles have something to offer.
The Rilke settings are more overtly serious and personal perhaps,
but the dream-like mysticism of the opening song of God’s Way
and the charm of In My Lover’s Garden all delight in their
In preparation for this recording Rautavaara
has made revisions to a number of the songs, including transpositions
where appropriate, to take full advantage of the astonishing basso
profundo voice of Jyrki Korhonen. It is indeed an extraordinary
voice and Korhonen’s first entry in his profundo register, mid-way
through the second song of Dream World (Viatonten valssi)
had me reaching for the remote control to immediately hear it
again. His subterranean tones seem to permeate these songs perfectly.
Although there is just an occasional waver of the voice he delivers
performances that show both sensitivity to the music and the texts.
Ilkka Paananen provides able and carefully judged piano accompaniment.
In conclusion, a highly enjoyable disc that is
strongly recommended to both Rautavaara aficionados and anyone
with an interest in modern song.