Rautavaara has sometimes been accused of writing the same work over and over again. In fact, his style has run through a wide variety of styles from the avant-garde to the post-romantic and neo-tonal, but one thing that seems to run through his output, however, is the shining, opulent but still clear orchestration (often giving the impression of moving clusters of sound), and the intense lyricism. Still, no one can deny (I think) that the disc at hand contains a rather variegated program, representing some of the best and most characteristic works of Rautavaara's various compositional styles, and despite some similarities the sound worlds of the violin concerto and the symphonic poem Isle of Bliss are worlds apart.
The violin concerto in two movements dates from 1977. The first movement is meditative, quiet and shimmering with the solo part often soaring skywards to bleakly cold heights. It is contrasted by a turbulent, uneasy second movement containing more than a nod toward Sibelius. It is a modern-sounding work, more urbane than some of the composer's work but still with a kind of dreamlike, pastoral quality to it. Elmar Oliveira is an extremely compelling soloist throughout, with a wonderful violin tone and superb backing by the Helsinki Philharmonic under Segerstam.
The orchestra does an even better job with the tone poem Isle of Bliss (1995); not only is this work written in Rautavaara's familiar, lushly, lyrical, neo-tonal style - it may very well be his most tuneful work, as well as one of his most striking. It is something of an opulent, surging stream of kaleidoscopic colors, birdsong, atmospheres and evocative tone-painting. It would make for an excellent, accessible introduction to the composer's later style. Angels and Visitations is less immediately striking (although I do see that other reviewers disagree). Stylistically it stands as a bridge between the other two works on the disc, full of lush clustery textures and dramatic effects, overlaid with a dreamy haze and borne up by a dramatic undercurrent. Still, it sounds a little wayward in its intensity, and I am less sure it really adds up to that much. Again, the performances are first-rate and the recorded sound is very good. Recommended, particularly for the Isle of Bliss although the concerto is a valuable addition to the repertoire as well.