The Finnish Radio Chamber Choir consists of some of Finland's finest singers, and they have made a strong case in recent years for Rautavaara's sacred music. On this outstanding CD, they present a concerted version of his settings for the Orthodox Vigil and Mattins services. Those of you who know Rachmaninov's similar settings (especially if through the recordings by the Corydon Singers or King's College Choir) will find this disc a must-have: it is a thoroughly engrossing counterpart to those works, albeit in the Finnish language and with all the subtle nuances of the Finnish Orthodox Church. To those who have never before encountered the Orthodox Vigil, this should still provide a most rewarding hour of listening, as Rautavaara reveals the height of his skill as a composer through the medium of unaccompanied vocal music. He clearly understands how the voice works and exploits all sorts of different singing techniques in the music to magical (if sometimes eerie) effect. Particular examples include the use of a female semi-chorus that chants the Hymn to the Mother of God in toneless whispers whilst the male voices drone and a soprano soloist sings the words above them; also, there are several solo passages such as the opening tenor solo which use microtones. Rautavaara even shows the same healthy respect for Orthodox musical traditions as Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and Tavener- specifically, in the inner section of the "Psalm of Invocation," which uses controlled but wild-sounding glissandi for full chorus, thereby 'quoting' an element of Byzantine music.
With 24 singers and four immaculate soloists, Timo Nuoranne conducts the two services with sensitivity and brilliance. From the haunting "Amen" at the very opening to the radiant cluster chords of the "Many Years" salutation at the end, this is a truly astounding programme, made all the richer by Ondine's expert recording.
I urge anyone who enjoys choral music to try this one out- and as the choir sings praise to God through Rautavaara's intensely communicative score, you yourself may end up singing their praises. Very strongly recommended!