Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b. 1928)
Cello Concerto No.2 Towards the Horizon (2008/9) [21:16]
Modificata (1957, rev. 2003) [17:15]
Percussion Concerto Incantations (2008) [23:44]
Truls Mørk (cello); Colin Currie (percussion)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
rec. Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, 15 January 2011 (Incantations) and Music Centre, Helsinki, 10-12 August 2011
ONDINE ODE 1178-2 [70:31]
Over the years Rautavaara has become Ondine's house composer. This label has championed his music – and still does – for many long years now. Its catalogue covers many aspects of his large and varied output including his numerous operas, concertos, symphonies, miscellaneous orchestral works as well as choral and chamber music. The release under review must be seen in this context. It couples an early work, albeit in a revised version, with two quite recent ones.
Rautavaara has often returned to his earlier works for a number of reasons but first and foremost because he felt unsatisfied about the finished product. A striking example is his First Symphony completed in 1955-1956 and revised in 1988 and in 2003. In the mid-1950s when he was studying with Wladimir Vogel, he composed two orchestral works, Prævariata and the triptych Modificata. They were clearly serial although the music was closer to Berg than to Webern. Many years later, Rautavaara returned to these pieces and decided to replace the original first movement of Modificata with Prævariata. This is what one hears here. In spite of the material's serial organisation the music achieves a strongly communicative expression. It’s ample proof that the composer could transcend the limitations of dodecaphony and serialism to achieve direct communication. That is what also makes his first opera Kaivos so successful.
Rautavaara composed fourteen concertos of which the Second Cello Concerto and the Percussion Concerto are the most recent and – as such – not included in Ondine's boxed set of the concertos (ODE 1156-2Q). Both the Second Cello Concerto and the Percussion Concerto are exactly contemporary, completed in 2009 and 2008 respectively. This comes fairly clearly through some of the music. The most striking example is the orchestral introduction to the first movement of the Second Cello Concerto and that of the Percussion Concerto. Nevertheless each has its own character partly due to the soloist. Rautavaara's first concerto ever was his Cello Concerto (1968) and the composer noted that the Second Cello Concerto might be his last although one can never tell with such a prolific writer. The most remarkable feature is that the soloist is present throughout this long and substantial work. The solo part is not overtly virtuosic, though it is far from being easy to play; it calls for much musicality. The Second Cello Concerto is a large arch in three sections played without break. It is cast as a theme and variations capped by a long Finale at the end of which the music dissipates into thin air. It’s a superb achievement and one of this composer's finest recent works. One's ears are immediately caught by the rich thematic material, the beautiful scoring and the idiomatic solo part, the whole amounting to a strongly expressive work that might – actually should – find a permanent place in any cellist's repertoire. Truls Mørk, the work's dedicatee, plays beautifully throughout and he obviously relishes every moment.
Considering the subtitle of Rautavaara's Percussion Concerto one might have expected something more overtly shamanistic but the composer noted that melody is a key musical element, at least in his latest music which is why the soloist is entrusted with marimba and vibraphone in all three movements. Other non-melodic instruments are called upon in the course of the work for the sake of instrumental colour and variety. As already mentioned the opening material stated by the orchestra is a near cousin to that of the Second Cello Concerto and is varied throughout the work until it reappears at the very end. Unlike the Second Cello Concerto the Percussion Concerto is in three movements, the last of which includes an improvised cadenza, something not often encountered in contemporary concertos. The Percussion Concerto is a worthwhile addition to the rather limited repertoire of works for percussion and orchestra although I find it a tad too long for its own good. Colin Currie navigates fearlessly through the demanding solo part, tailor-made to meet his remarkable virtuosity and musicality.
All in all, this is a superb release with outstanding performances, excellent notes by Kimmo Korhonen (who else indeed?) and superb recorded sound. The whole is well up to Ondine's best standards. These lushly scored and often beautiful works should appeal to anyone looking for attractive and accessible contemporary music. Rautavaara's fans will need no further recommendation since this very fine release fills important gaps in this composer's generous discography.
A superb addition to Ondine's survey of Rautavaara's large and varied output.