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CD Review

Einojuhani Rautavaara

Piano Concertos

  • Piano Concerto #2
  • Piano Concerto #3 "Gift of Dreams"
  • Isle of Bliss
Laura Mikkola, piano
Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eri Klas
Naxos 8.557009 DDD 62:06
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There was a gap of twenty years between Einojuhani Rautavaara's First and Second Piano Concertos, but a gap of only ten between the Second and Third. (The Third was premièred in 1999 – you do the math!) The Finnish composer's mature style might be described as Modernist tools at the service of neo-Romantic expression. Rautavaara employs serialism and aleatoric writing, synthesizers, and even the taped sound of birds in some of his works, but his primary concern seems to be communicating with the average listener, and transporting him into unfamiliar physical and emotional landscapes.

The Second Concerto is in three movements, "In Viaggio" (Journeying), "Sognando e libero" (Dreaming and freely), and "Uccelli sulle passioni," in which the composer's predilection for birds and birdsong surfaces again. The middle movement is longer than the outer movements combined. From the work's outset, one can hear how the composer has embraced the conventions of the Romantic piano concerto; the sweeping piano figurations and the cadenzas would not be out of place in a concerto by Liszt, had he lived to be a modern composer. A quick section in the middle of the slow second movement is another reminiscence of the Romantic era. The work's mood, while equivocal, is predominantly restless. The music is often pretty, yet it is also angular and agitated.

The Third Piano Concerto was written for Vladimir Ashkenazy, who was both the soloist and the conductor for the Helsinki première. (He has recorded the concerto for the Ondine label.) Again, a long central movement is flanked by shorter, quicker ones.

And, like its predecessor, this concerto wears contemporary clothes but has an old-fashioned personality. In fact, although it runs at a lower emotional temperature, the Third is a close cousin to the Second; Rautavaara's stylistic consistency is apparent. The subtitle, "Gift of Dreams," is not explained.

As a prelude of sorts, we are given the 12-minute Isle of Bliss, a paradisiacal tone poem which extends lines drawn by Ravel and Messiaen. It was written in 1995 for the Espoo Music Institute in Finland.

Rautavaara's music has been thoroughly documented by Ondine, but Naxos CDs are available at a fraction of Ondine's price, and the performances, sound, and presentation are excellent. This is a good way to determine whether Rautavaara's world is for you.

Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle