Rautavaara: Flute Concerto, O
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During the last decade, Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) has proven himself to be one of this century's greatest composers, standing shoulder to shoulder with Jean Sibelius in the annals of Finnish music. But while Sibelius relied more on melodic structures and thematic development, Rautavaara's musical ideas are advanced through atmospherics. This particular release contains a brilliant flute concerto, a ghostly tone poem (Anadyomene), and a beautiful fantasy for chorus and orchestra (On the Last Frontier). Conductor Leif Segerstam pilots the Helsinki Philharmonic (and flutist Patrick Gallois) through some of Rautavaara's best music here, particularly the flute concerto. Without a doubt this is a major release of classical music this year--and not a bad introduction to this astonishing composer. Very highly recommended. --Paul Cook
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The flute concerto is a special one: all four standard flutes are used in the composition. While the first and third movements are superior in their development and display the highest degree of melodic beauty and technical perfection, other two movements suffer from shortness and lack of agility. Especially the fourth movement is pretty poor and does not conclude the otherwise well-written work to make it memorable.
A masterpiece for itself is the cantata On the last frontier. It has the similar qualities as the first piece on this CD, and it is even more ambitious. I admire the perfect recording by Helsinki Philharmonic and conductor Segerstam (When the composition was performed in Slovenia by a Slovene Philharmonic orchestra, the orchestra did not play very well). No more words. I will return to my CD player and listen to these pieces again.
The flute concerto, Dances with the winds (1975) is an inventive work in which the soloist is required to alternate between four different instruments, always engaging and subtly varied, and throughout which the flutist also alternates between leading the orchestra and engaging in dialogues with it. It is written on a rather large scale, but Rautavaara is able to keep the listener's interest sustained through the various interesting twists and turns. It certainly also helps that it receives such an impressive performance as it does by Patrick Gallois, slightly superior to the BIS version (which might overall still be a more easily recommendable introduction to the composer). On the Last Frontier is a large fantasy for chorus and orchestra dating from 1997 and is probably the most impressive work on the disc, exhibiting many of the same virtues as Anadyomene, though more mystical and otherwordly-sounding in its shimmering textures driven along on strong, deep undercurrents. It does, however, also has more forward momentum than the earlier work.
Throughout all three works the Helsinki Philharmonic under Leif Segerstam are absolutely excellent, displaying a deep understanding and affection for the music The sound quality is spacious and big with lots of detail and presence. So to sum up, this is a quite excellent disc - not, perhaps, containing any masterpieces or works that will alter the course of musical history, but engaging and appealing ones nonetheless.
In the liner notes, Rautavaara explains that he initially intended his 1968 orchestral work "Anadyomene (Adoration of Aphrodite)" to be based on a strict plan snobbishly based on Joyce's FINNEGANS WAKE. However, he claims, the music refused to stick to a preordained plan and went off into flights of fancy. The result regrettably ends up being yet another of Rautavaara's vacuous works. I'd suggest that the composer went with his inspiration not because it was so powerful, but because it is so easy to write major triads above a pedal point for twelve minutes instead of producing much of substance.
The Flute Concerto "Dances with the Winds" was written in 1973. Over its four movements, Rautavaara has the soloist play four different types of flutes (piccolo, standard, alto flute in G, and bass flute). As is common with Rautavaara concertos, there's not much virtuosity for the soloist (here Patrick Gallois). Nor is there any kind of "individual against the masses" or similar drama as in the concertos of Carter, Schnittke, or Gubaidulina. Instead, it's just the same music as in most Rautavaara works, just with the flute often being the only instrument heard. There's a distinct lack of direction, and the piece ends at a peculiarly inappropriate moment.
The fantasy for chorus and orchestra "On the Last Frontier" (1997) initially enters further into vacuity, with the first several minutes completely indistinguishable from the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. Once the chorus enters we get something fresh, and for most of the work there's enough variety in orchestration and the text itself to make this fairly entertaining. While I don't think it's worth recommending the disc for, it's at least comforting to think that anyone who might buy it aren't setting themselves up for total disappointment.
In my opinion, fans of contemporary music should seek out only two of Rautavaara's works. The first is the Symphony No. 3, where a peculiar application of twelve-tone serialism surprisingly results in the greatest symphony Bruckner never wrote. The other work is Cantus Arcticus, a gimmicky but entertaining enough fusion of taped birdsong and sinfonietta. Both can be had at budget price on Naxos disc. The rest of his oeuvre is generally disappointing, and even the pieces that are not appallingly empty are average at best.