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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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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]

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.

John Phillips


See also review by Rob Barnett September Bargain of the month

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