What a splendid disc ... and what a bargain! Congratulations Naxos and you
have contributed to this reviewer's profoundest satisfaction.
The Piano Concerto No 1 has always been a very great work as far as I am
concerned. It has all the ingredients of being a masterpiece. It is original
and not a copy of anything that has gone before and this is the vital essential
of a great composer. It has durability. I can listen to it again and again
and never tire of it. The composer's skill, technique and orchestration is
exemplary; it is music of worth; it has something to say and says it; it
has contrast ... on the one hand, powerful drama and excitement and, on the
other, a tender lyricism. It has wonderful, unpredictable harmonies at times
and yet has some conventional features as well. It has the quality that almost
everyone wants in a piano concerto; that stunning virtuosity that brings
the house down. Of course, there are idiosyncrasies but then it could be
argued that, for example, baroque composers has such formulae with their
ornamentation and other features. The big, broad melodies of the Rautavaara
are post-Rachmaninov but without the mawkish sentimentality and with the
advantages of big harmonies. Soaring violin melodies in the second movement
are supported by some astonishing harmonies and some warmth in the strings.
Not everyone will like the palm clusters or the forearm clusters but aren't
they exciting and dramatic? The finale is molto allegro that is too short!
It contains some glorious surprises!
The Symphony No 3 precedes the Concerto by about ten years being completed
in 1960. It is a fascinating contradiction of something both tonal and
dodecaphonic although not strictly so. The music conjures up an impressive
visual imagery through a wonderful tapestry of sound from the desolate to
the majestic. There is humour, playfulness and opulence; there is grandeur
and solemnity and four Wagner tubas. It has a rather loose structure as can
be noted in the Symphony No 4 of Jean Sibelius. It yields its rewards and
its treasure by listening to it. Real music is not entertainment or a background;
it is to be an all-embracing experience.
The Cantus Arcticus may be Rautavaara's most famous piece. The bird
song was taped in the Arctic Circle. This sound world is unique and totally
absorbing. When a composer can successfully produce a pictorial realisation
in an aural treatise he has made a great achievement. The cold and the migrating
swans are captured with great imagination and the use of aleatoric passages
is relevant in this rather special piece. It is both evocative and communicative
and has a documentary feel.
Wildlife on One? No, I prefer Rautavaara's Opus 61.
The performances are very good. Laura Mikkola is a gifted pianist who has
many famous teachers to her credit and who has worked with first-rank conductors.
There is a strength in her playing and for this concerto she needs it. Hannu
Lintu is a conductor that we should hear more of and the Royal Scottish National
Orchestra reveal that they are a fine ensemble who benefitted enormously
from the work they did with Bryden Thomson. The sleeve note contains one
glaring error but you will have to buy this bargain CD to resolve it.