(b. 1928)
Cello Concerto No. 2, Towards the Horizon (2008-2009) [21:16]
Modificata (1957/2003) [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 (Percussion Concerto); Music Centre, 10-12 August 2011 (Cello Concerto, Modificata). 24-bit DXD recording
ONDINE ODE 1178-2 [62:16]
Fans of all things Finnish will be sorely tempted by this disc of Rautavaara’s music; not only are these concertos world premiere recordings they’re also played by their respective dedicatees. Leading the charge is John Storgårds, who did such a splendid job co-ordinating the disparate elements in Kalevi Aho’s mountainside monster, the Luosto Symphony (review). The latter was one of my Recordings of the Year for 2008, and I urge anyone who hasn’t heard it to do so at once.
These soloists need no introduction; the Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk has carved out a distinguished career for himself and the Scottish percussionist Colin Currie is doing the same. I remember being most impressed by the latter’s performances in the 1994 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition and wondering when I’d hear from him again. Well, that time has now arrived; indeed, I can’t remember being so eager to hear a new CD that within minutes it was in the player and I’d pressed play.
The turbulent introduction to the Second Cello Concerto instantly grabs the attention and draws one into its troubled musings. From out of this uncertain universe spins a heart-stopping cello line, whose ethereal beauty is captured in a 24-bit DXD recording of rare subtlety and presence. Balances are just perfect, soloist and orchestra engaged in a yearning dialogue that’s both profoundly beautiful and intensely moving. I played this piece several times, if only to assure myself I’d actually heard such out-of-this-world music and music-making. Yes, this understated concerto really is that magical, and I just know I’ll return to it time and time again.
As for the early Modificata, revised in 2003, dodecaphony has seldom sounded so ravishing. There’s little of the stern pedagogue in this rigorously conceived - and most virtuosic - score; packed with ear-tweaking incident it’s imbued with a gentle grace and serene loveliness that comes perilously close to that most exalted state, the sublime. The quiet, gong-struck epiphanies are especially thrilling, and although the final movement is tough and sinewy it never loses its lyrical impulse. What a find this is; yet another work to add to my ever-lengthening list of Rautavaara favourites. Both Storgårds and his band are supremely assured here, and the top-notch recording adds immensely to one’s enjoyment of this composer’s distinctive sound world.
Aho’s Luosto Symphony is rooted in a dark, distant shamanism, and Rautavaara's Incantations - the subtitle of this Percussion Concerto - may suggest an unformed world that’s just as strange and elemental. Those odd timp rolls in the first movement do indeed herald the arrival of something defiantly ‘other’, the vibraphone and marimba augmenting the sense of mysticism and immemoriality. Make no mistake, this couldn’t be further from the filmic hocus-pocus associated with such things; indeed, this shimmering score is simply gorgeous, the sheer fecundity of Rautavaara’s writing matched by Currie’s discreet, unearthly tones. As for the next movement’s sculptures in sound their delicate timbres are reproduced with astonishing fidelity. There’s a robust cadenza in the third, but the deep spell, once cast, remains unbroken to the end.
Occasionally a recording comes so close to the unrepeatable concentration and colour of a live event that one feels compelled to applaud at the close; I daresay you will too, for this really is an extraordinary achievement.
Bravo, bravo and thrice bravo; my disc of the year.
Dan Morgan  

Bravo, bravo and thrice bravo; my disc of the year. 

see also review by Hubert Culot