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Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928)
Apotheosis (1996) [7:54]
Manhattan Trilogy (2004) [18:29]
Symphony No. 8 The Journey (1999) [29:49]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Pietari Inkinen
rec. August 2006, Wellington Town Hall, Wellington, New Zealand. DDD
NAXOS 8.570069 [56:12]
Experience Classicsonline

The influences on Rautavaara are many. Born in Finland, he studied at Helsinki University and the Sibelius Academy before travelling to America, where he trained with Persichetti at Juilliard and Copland and Sessions at Tanglewood.
 
The opening piece, Apotheosis, reminded me of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, both in terms of its inherent romanticism and its musical language. Conceived as a reworking of the final movement of the Sixth Symphony, Rautavaara’s rich harmonies become increasingly dissonant towards the climactic points, creating a wonderful sound and well-paced tensions. The piece is in arch-form, building gradually towards its final crescendo, before reprising the earlier material for a gentle and poetic end.
 
The Manhattan Suite, composed for the Juilliard Symphony Orchestra and first performed in 2005, opens in a less complex harmonic language, with extended solos for oboe and clarinet with the violin taking the melodic interest over repeated chords. A more complex central section returns some of Rautavaara’s more dissonant language, before the initial mood returns with solos for woodwind and violin. The second movement, Nightmare is dark and brooding, with repeated figures building up tension. Rautavaara uses parallel intervals to create dissonance, with the same musical line heard simultaneously at different pitches throughout the orchestra.  The effect is striking, with a rich and dramatic sound. The final movement builds gradually, as one would perhaps expect from a Dawn scene. The music develops in intensity, with a haunting melodic line becoming stronger and louder towards the peak of the movement just before the end.
 
Symphony No. 8 The Journey has a film-like feel. Strong, dark and powerful, the opening movement possesses its own life-force which drives the work forwards. The composer has retained the rich, romantic feel of the other works on the disc, but this is music with a true sense of depth. The darkness is appealing, and one is aware that the journey referred to in the title is no ordinary voyage. The second movement takes on a faster, more dramatic nature, as if impending danger is merely seconds away. The driving force here is brass and percussion, who give strength to this short but exciting episode. The third movement continues without a break, and provides a stark contrast. The music is slow and contemplative, featuring a beautifully played horn solo. The final movement has renewed vigour, but the melancholy spirit remains.  Long melodies are punctuated by the sound of bells, and the rich harmonies are all encompassing as the music builds gradually to its climax. The movement has the epic feel of a film soundtrack and is instantly likeable but at the same time possesses a musical depth that would entice a listener to return again and again.
 
This is an enjoyable disc, with some excellent playing from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. There are some wonderful moments, particularly when the brass and percussion are used to add a further dimension to the orchestral sound. The music retains its momentum throughout, and the tension created through increasing use of dissonance is a large part of the music’s appeal. This is contemporary music with tunes, but with sufficient dissonant interest in the musical language to remain fresh and enough of a musical challenge to be exciting to hear. Much can be gained from listening to Rautavaara’s music, both emotionally and intellectually, and this is a performance of which the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Pietari Inkinen deserve to be proud.
 
Carla Rees
 

 


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