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Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928)
Twelve Concertos
CD 1
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1977) [24:11]
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1968) [17:33]
Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra Angel of Dusk (1980) [26:19]
CD 2
Ballad for Harp and Strings (1973/1981) [10:05]
Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (2000) [23:11]
Concerto for Birds and Orchestra Cantus Arcticus (1972) [19:23]
CD 3
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra Dances with the Winds (1975) [22:54]
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (2001) [25:54]
Concerto for Organ, Brass Quintet and Symphonic Wind Orchestra Annunciations (1977) [27:33]
CD 4
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 (1969) [20:11]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 (1989) [22:08]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 Gift of Dreams (1998) [27:57]
see end of review for performer details
rec. 1991-2005. DDD
ONDINE ODE 1156-2Q [4 CDs: 68:21 + 52:59 + 76:30 + 70:37]

Experience Classicsonline

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 stark yet poetic clarity.

The Violin Concerto is getting on for three decades old. In two movements, the first of these 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 or the Szymanowskis. The second movement is more explosive. 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. I am pleased that we have the even, yet intensely succulent and poignant tone of Oliveira to present this work to the world. The work was written in New York with technical assistance from Eugene Sarbu.

The compact Cello Concerto saws away deep in the auburn territory between baritone and bass - heavy with premonition and a chant-like soul. It marks in undiluted lyrical terms a turning away from dodecaphony. Textures are left bare yet never Spartan. Some of the writing is reminiscent of Barber (sultry) and Schuman (springy, powered and athletic) yet more melodic than either of them - the mark of his New York years perhaps.

Olli Kosonen worked with Rautavaara on Angel of Dusk - the Concerto for Double Bass and recorded it for Finlandia. The lustrous canvas gleams in the hands of Esko Laine and the Tapiola Sinfonietta. This is at one level yet the music surges with tidal power at lower levels. The last two movements hum with dark chaotic tension and cello acts as a tireless cantor redolent of the relationship between solo and orchestra in Rubbra’s Soliloquy (Cello Classics and Lyrita). Especially in the finale one is occasionally reminded in the string writing of 1960s Penderecki but the dominance here is lyrical. The recording used here has been licensed from Bis (BIS-CD-910) - credit to the two companies for such open-minded collaboration in the interests of Ondine’s enlightened endeavour on behalf of Rautavaara. Angel of Dusk is part of the composer’s Angels series: Angels and Visitations, Playgrounds for Angels and Angel of Light.  

We next hear two works for harp and orchestra. The overture-length Ballad is both Baltic-poetic and wildly emotional. It shudders with fracture lines. The music reminds me of a sort of avant-garde extension of Sibelius’s The Bard - more emotionally candid. The Harp Concerto is in three movements. The solo - here played by Marielle Nordmann - is bolstered by two ‘assisting’ harps which enable the harp voicings to be heard above the otherwise overpowering phalanx of orchestral sound. The music is at the surface redolent of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro and Debussy’s Danses Sacrée et Danses Profanes. There’s a superb fullness of heart and generous eloquence of romantic expression about the slightly Vaughan Williamsy central movement and the gloriously romantic-filmic finale. CD 2 ends with the work through which I discovered Rautavaara: Cantus Arcticus. I can be precise. It was 15 June 1982 when the BBC broadcast a performance in which Ian Reid conducted the University of London Orchestra in the work’s first UK broadcast. The work was written in Oulu in 1972 and uses the lonely-sounding birdsong recordings the composer had made in northern Finland as the solo voices. The noble grand theme carried by the baritonal strings at 3:20 onwards in the first movement never fails to make an impact; neither does its counterpart in the finale: man and nature - eternity and transience. I do not prefer this recording to the atmospheric tape I have of the 1982 broadcast or the Finlandia version by the Klemetti Institute Symphony Orchestra with Pertti Pekkanen. The others allow a more elusive atmosphere to pervade but cannot compare in audio-technical terms. The admirable Ondine team have produced a recording of great forward immediacy and directness not always apt to this wonderful and emotionally overpowering work. It superbly brings off a marriage between real birdsong and the orchestra - something Messiaen steered clear of doing and is infinitely more subtle than say Respighi’s The Birds. It is a visual counterpart to the French film: Winged Migration.  

On CD 3 we first encounter the Flute Concerto. It’s not quite what it seems from the title. Each of the four movements deploys a different instrument: concert flute, piccolo, alto flute and bass flute. It’s a multi-faceted piece with suggestions along the way of a Baltic faun, a stomping Til Eulenspiegel figure, the grand emotional nobility of a typical Rautavaara string theme and a dash more 1970s modernism than usual. The Clarinet Concerto was written specifically for the player here, the American soloist Richard Stoltzmann. The characteristic nobility of Rautavaara’s slowly blossoming themes can be heard here. This is alongside Stoltzmann’s virtuosity and poignant emotionalism - try the central and very touching Adagio assai and the end of the first movement which reminded me of Nyman. The finale has more tragic violence abut it than usual. The work was written in close cooperation with Stoltzmann. The Annunciations Concerto is for organ, brass quintet and symphonic wind orchestra. Mysteries, Paeans and Furies inhabit its pages alongside other now well-recognised Rautavaara hallmarks: the flutter of avian voices and an innate nobility.

The final CD sensibly couples the three piano concertos: 1969, 1989 and 1998. The Piano Concerto No. 1 was written as a vehicle for the composer as pianist. He toured it around Finland. It’s clangour and clamour carries a noble light-filled theme clearly related to the grand string orchestra themes used in Cantus Arcticus. Much of the solo writing is epic and quarry-hewn colossal. The Piano Concerto No. 2 is a shade less angular but just as tidally propulsive, swirling, troubled-surreal and at times rhetorical - something of an emotional whirlpool of a piece. The Piano Concerto No. 3 Gift of Dreams was written with Ashkenazy’s wish that the work be written to allow him to conduct from the keyboard. The first movement is calmly hieratic - with the music operating like a spell for nobility- an invocation. The strings sing out in massed power before stony heroic affirmation from the piano which fades down into a shaded peace. This forms a seamless segue into the calming Adagio assai which is yet not without rhetoric and granitic dissonance from the piano soloist. Strange how the solo piano part made me think of John Ireland (Legend and Concerto) and Bax (Symphonic Variations and Winter Legends). The final Energico has the bubbling wind writing of Cantus Arcticus but is overall a thornier and more apocalyptically angular work than the title might have lead you to believe. That said, its final bell-swung pages leave a glow that will draw you back. 

The terse and to-the-point liner-notes are by Kimmo Korhonen and are in English and Finnish.

The overarching commitment and sympathetic insights of different engineers, conductors and orchestras are patent.

It is perhaps important to note that this box does not include all Rautavaara’s concertos. It does not make this claim. It does not for example include the Percussion Concerto Incantations.

These recordings were produced in collaboration with the composer between 1991 and 2005 and have been previously released to international popular and critical acclaim. Their original issue and provenance is given in the head-note.

Ondine has the field to itself as a single collected edition of the Rautavaara concertos. The rewards are great so don’t hesitate if you are at all interested or tempted. If the idea of twelve concertos by Rautavaara is too much then don’t overlook exploring individual discs including the Naxos version of piano concertos 2 and 3.  

This superb box is a wonderful successor to Ondine’s similar 4 CD venture for the eight symphonies on ODE1145-2Q. The two sets make ideal companions.

Rautavaara’s artistic journey is always powerful and often directly accessible, nuanced and patently sincere.

Rob Barnett 

Performance details
Elmar Oliveira (violin) Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam (Violin Concerto; originally released (ODE 881-2)
Marko Ylönen (cello) Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Max Pommer (Cello Concerto; ODE 819-2)
Esko Laine (double-bass) Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow (Double Bass Concerto; under licence from BIS)

Reija Bister (harp) Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/Juha Kangas (Ballad for Harp and Strings; ODE 983-2D)
Marielle Nordmann (harp) Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam (Harp Concerto; ODE 978-2)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam plus composer’s tape recordings of arctic bird song (Cantus Arcticus; ODE 1041-2)

Patrick Gallois (C flute/piccolo/alto/bass) Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam (Flute Concerto; ODE 921-2)
Richard Stoltzman (clarinet) Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam (Clarinet Concerto; ODE 1041-2)
Kari Jussila (organ) Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam (Organ Concerto; ODE 869-2)

Ralf Gothóni (piano) Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra/Max Pommer (Piano Concerto No. 1); Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste (No. 2; ODE 757-2); Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (from the piano) (No. 3; ODE 950-2)



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