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Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928)
Violin Concerto (1977) [24:10]
Isle of Bliss (1995) [11:20]
Angels and Visitations (1978) [19:16]
Elmar Oliveira (violin)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
Rec. Finlandia Hall, March 1996; May 1996 (Isle)
ONDINE ODE 881-2 [55:05]


No one can accuse Ondine of bland design or unimaginative programming. Their catalogue is a feast of distinctive repertoire and a celebration of personality. It is understandable that they should celebrate their 20th anniversary with reissuing 20 back catalogue CDs in characterful birthday sleeves.

Over the years Rautavaara has spoken to audiences in a variety of styles. Some of his works are strongly avant-garde; others are more lyrically accessible,. Whichever style you encounter he always orchestrates with pellucid clarity. The Violin Concerto is getting on for three decades old. It’s in two movements the first of which is extremely lyrical with the violin often dizzyingly high in its range. It operates quietly - a picture in sound of an ice cavern: crystalline, glistening; The Lark Ascending meditating on the Berg concerto. The second movement is more explosive. While this is clearly a work of the 20th century - written in part in New York - it is not intimidatingly so. In both movements the composer keeps in touch with the Finnish countryside and especially in the first there are links with the nature painting of his remarkable Cantus Arcticus. Oliveira digs deeply into his role. The work was written with technical assistance from Eugene Sarbu whose vibrato-ridden Sibelius Violin Concerto recording is well outside my tolerance. I am pleased that we have the even yet intensely succulent and poignant tone of Oliveira to present this work to the world. Isle of Bliss was written in 1995 for the Espoo Festival. It shows Rautavaara’s outright rapprochement with the ‘new lyricism’. It represents an incredible phantasmal wash of long-lined song from the strings with woodwind-evoked birdsong; Hollywood-like in its freedom. Think in terms of John Barry through Sibelius. If you enjoyed Valentin Silvestrov’s almost psychedelic song-in-dreams Fifth Symphony you need to hear this as well. Angels and Visitations is the first work in Rautavaara’s Angel Series (other instalments include Angel of Dusk, Playgrounds for Angels and Angel of Light). At 6:10 the avian voices of Cantus Arcticus and an ineluctable Sibelian undertow are recalled. Other parts of the work take us back to the composer’s absorption in avant-garde expressive language with jangling textures and groaning dramatic effects including a ‘goblin shout’ from the gentlemen of the orchestra at 9:10; rather more chilling than Delius’s similar effect in Eventyr. Everything is poetically bound together with dreamy passages recalling Hovhaness’s most extreme explorations in quietude as well as Holst’s otherworldly Neptune and Betelgueuse.

Shortish playing time but the artistic journey is powerful . The commitment and sympathetic insights of engineers, conductor and orchestra are patent.

Rob Barnett


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