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Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928)
Songs (Yksinlauluja)

Maailman uneen (Dream World) (1972-82)
Three Sonnets of Shakespeare (1952)
I min älsklings trädgård (In My Lover’s Garden) (1983-87)
Guds väg (God’s Way) (1964)
Pyhiä päiviä (Sacred Feasts) (1953)
Fünf Sonette an Orpheus (1954-55)
Die Liebenden (1958-59)
Matka (The Trip) (1977)
Jyrki Korhonen (basso profundo)
Ilkka Paananen (piano)
Rec. 19/22 Nov 2001, Nybrokajen 11 (former Academy of Music), Stockholm, Sweden DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1141 [79:33]


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 works.

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 differing ways.

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.

Christopher Thomas

 

 



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