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CD Review

Einojuhani Rautavaara

Recent Orchestral Works

  • Symphony #8 "The Journey"
  • Manhattan Trilogy
  • Apotheosis
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Pietari Inkinen
Naxos 8.570069
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Rautavaara is not only one of the major contemporary Finnish composers but one of the world's most often performed and highly respected of his generation. His music is tonal and quite accessible, a sort of modern mixture of Sibelius, Debussy, Ravel, Janáček and even Vaughan Williams. Of course, citing this amalgamation can be misleading, since Rautavaara, in the end, sounds like Rautavaara.

The major work here, of course, is the Symphony #8 (1999). Lasting a half-hour, the work, nicknamed "The Journey", is epic in character, with the opening movement grandly presenting the transformation of the main theme. While there is much tension throughout, one senses a certain restraint in the often wistful character of the music. Here the work's nickname seems quite appropriate, with the feeling of a journey hovering above the ever-evolving music. The ensuing three-minute Scherzo is colorful in its manic exoticism and ethereal yearnings. It leads right into the Tranquillo, which opens as if the music needs to catch its breath. The sense of serenity pervades the movement, as the gentle lyrical flow generates little tension and unrest. The finale begins with tolling bells and a sense of dead-seriousness in its quasi-sacral character. The music builds grandly and gradually develops a more driven manner. Strings swirl, horns search, brass make grandiose statements, all uniting to convey the sense of a culmination to the "Journey". In the end, the symphony concludes triumphantly.

The other works are quite interesting and well worth hearing. Apotheosis (1996), which leads off the disc, is mostly gentle and lyrical. So is "Dreams", the opening movement of Manhattan Trilogy (2004), which follows. The ensuing "Nightmares" is, expectedly, disruptive and sinister in character. The concluding "Dawn" begins mysteriously, but then turns restless, and at the climax fades to the sound of bells.

The performances here by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra are fine and sound quite committed under the baton of their young music director, Pietari Inkinen, who, by the way, is also a fine violinist. The Naxos sound is excellent. Recommended.

Copyright © 2008, Robert Cummings