Rautavaara: Angels & Visitations

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The magical world of Einojuhani Rautavaara is one that evokes other realms. Angels figure particularly heavily, especially those angels that deal with death and destruction. As Rautavaara himself says, “My angels are not those like in the altarpieces of Raphael...my angels are powerful.”

As well as with angels, many mystics have been preoccupied with the language of the birds (Messiaen in music, but think also of Saint Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds). One of the most popular Finnish works of recent years has been the Cantus arcticus, for prerecorded bird sounds and orchestra. It is a hugely impressive three-movement soundscape marked by a timeless feel and by beautiful, glowing lines. The taped birds could easily have sounded like a cheap effect, so it is telling that they emerge as an integral part of the work’s emotional vocabulary. Segerstam’s performance is excellent, as one would expect from this fine musician.

The very title Autumn Gardens seems to invite comparison with Takemitsu—all we need is a descending flock of the birds from the Cantus arcticus. It is certainly easy on the ear, so much so that the acerbic, percussive dissonances of the third movement of the First Piano Concerto come as something of a relief. Gothóni is an excellent pianist here; his way with some rhythms makes me suggest he has links to jazz. Back to pure atmosphere for the Clarinet Concerto, though—truly excellently played by Stoltzmann.

The second disc begins with an Adagio celeste for string orchestra. The strings of the Belgian National Orchestra play really sumptuously in this gently pulsating score; the much more abrasive Flute Concerto excerpt that follows (complete with agile low bassoon and menacing percussion) acts as a necessary corrective, although it is not long before it, too, shows its delicate side.

True and False Unicorn is a reminder of Rautavaara’s stature as a composer of choral works. The second movement, “Young Sagittarius,” is full of delightfully light rhythmic play, as is In the shade of the willow. Anadyomene , subtitled “Adoration of Aphrodite,” evokes more of a sense of the massive, using expansive, coloristic writing and including moments of real light.

The final work, Angels and Visitations , has a deliberately ambiguous title. “Visitations” may indeed refer to the Annunciation, but it may equally invoke something more sinister. Climaxes, therefore, tend towards the darkly hued. There are shades of Sibelius during the course of the piece, but Rautavaara transforms the material so that it glows in a most un-Sibelian way. This tense score (with its Pétrouchka -like mêlée of sounds) is one of the most impressive on either disc here, and is an apt way to close.

Although other companies are championing the Rautavaara cause, most notably Naxos, Ondine has a certain authority. Both sides of Rautavaara’s personality—the meltingly beautiful and the near violent—are given a chance to make their mark here.

-- Fanfare



Product Description:


  • Catalog Number: ODE 1079-2D


  • UPC: 761195107928


  • Label: Ondine


  • Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara


  • Conductor: Leif Segerstam, Max Pommer, Mikko Franck, Timo Nuoranne, Vladimir Ashkenazy


  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Belgian National Orchestra, Finnish Radio Chamber Choir, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra


  • Performer: Patrick Gallois, Ralf Gothóni, Richard Stoltzman, Vladimir Ashkenazy