Rautavaara: Piano Concerto No. 3 & Autumn Gardens / Ashkenazy, Helsinki Philharmonic

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Good heavens, this is gorgeous music! Anyone who can listen to this disc and still say that either (a) tonality is dead, or (b) there's no great classical music being written any more, needs a major course of shock therapy. In just a few years, Rautavaara has come to be known not just as Finland's greatest composer, but probably the world's. It's a reputation effortlessly sustained by this release. I can't think of another composer presently active whose music is at once so deeply felt, so personal in style, so approachable, so intensely beautiful, but at the same time so free of anything that smacks of kitsch, sensationalism, or pandering to special interests whether conservative, progressive, or anything in between.

I believe that in Rautavaara's current work we are witness to the artistic phenomenon of a truly great musical voice writing at full maturity. This is a rare enough occurrence in itself. How much more wonderful is it, then, when we have the privilege of hearing each new work in a first rate recording, practically as it's created? For that we have Ondine to thank. This label's far-sighted artistic partnership with Rautavaara represents one of the most enlightened policies in the classical record industry today, and offers genuine evidence of the logic and practical utility of placing commercial interests in the service of great new art.

Rautavaara composed his Third Piano Concerto (subtitled "Gift of Dreams") expressly for Vladimir Ashkenazy, and designed it to be conducted from the keyboard. The opening movement grows organically from a series of soft chords played first by the strings, and next by the solo piano. Then the music takes wing in a series of aspiring episodes capped by the return of the movement's opening, vigorously played by the piano and backed by single notes on the chimes. The whole work proceeds with similar inevitability, and there is no greater testimony to the composer's mastery than the fact that the spirited finale actually ends quietly with no sense at all of anti-climax, but rather with a calm smile, in a mood of contentment. "Autumn Gardens" is a very substantial orchestral meditation on the beauty of nature and the transience of life. With three movements in all, and totaling more than 26 minutes, the composer could very well have called it a symphony. It shares something of the concerto's lyrical warmth, but its overall mood is less dynamic, more relaxed, though with plenty of variety to sustain its length.

Both works are played very well indeed by Ashkenazy and the Helsinki Philharmonic, and splendidly recorded by Ondine. This disc inaugurates a new partnership between conductor and orchestra that will eventually take in a new Sibelius symphony cycle. In the meantime, we have the premiere of Rautavaara's Eighth Symphony (commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra) to look forward to in spring, 2000. Buy this disc, and join in the thrilling discovery of some new "classics".

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ODE 950-2

  • UPC: 761195095027

  • Label: Ondine

  • Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara

  • Conductor: Vladimir Ashkenazy

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Vladimir Ashkenazy