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RAUTAVAARA: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 / Isle of Bliss (Eri Klas/ Laura Mikkola/ Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Phil Rowlands) (Naxos: 8.557009)



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Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928)

Isle of Bliss Piano Concerto No. 3 ('Gift of Dreams') Piano Concerto No. 2


Einojuhani Rautavaara was born in Helsinki on 9th October,1928. Graduating from Helsinki University in 1952, he studied at the SibeliusAcademy with Aarre Merikanto and, after winning a Koussevitzky Foundationfellowship in 1955, with Vincent Persichetti at the Juilliard School, and withAaron Copland and Roger Sessions at Tanglewood. He furthered his studies inAscona with Vladimir Vogel and in Cologne with Rudolf Petzold. A lecturer atthe Sibelius Academy from 1966 to 1971, he was then appointed to the stateposition of Professor in Arts.


Rautavaara's early pieces, typified by the prize-winning ARequiem in Our Time (1953), drew on the Nordic classicism of Sibelius andNielsen, as well as the influences of Bartok, Shostakovich and folk-music. HisFourth Symphony (1962) was among the first Finnish works to employ serialtechniques, while the subsequent widening of his stylistic range gave rise, in1972, to two of his most enduring works: Vigilia, drawing on Orthodoxliturgical chant, and Cantus Arcticus (Naxos 8.554147), employing tapedbirdsong alongside modal and aleatoric (chance-derived) elements. Greater tonalorientation is evident in his more recent music, such as the last foursymphonies (Symphony No. 7, Naxos 8.555814) and the operas Thomas (1985),Vincent (1990) and Aleksis Kivi (1997). Meanwhile the growing recognitionaccorded his music can be gauged from the number of recordings andinternational commissions received over the last decade.


Composed in 1995 for the orchestra of Espoo Music Institute,Isle of Bliss was inspired by Home of the Birds, a poem of Aleksis Kivi(1834-72) depicting the mythical concept of the island paradise. Rautavaara'spiece broadly follows the overall form of the poem: a lively opening, passinginto a reflective section, marked by contributions from numerous solo windinstruments, which evokes time standing still; at length, the emergence of anexpressive string threnody denoting the arrival of dawn, then a recall of theopening pages which precedes the music's swift passing into silence.


Rautavaara's First Piano Concerto, written in 1969, wasamong the first works in which he turned away from an outwardly modernistaesthetic, seeking, in his own words, to evoke \the entire rich grandeur of theinstrument". Twenty years later and the Second Piano Concerto, written at therequest of Ralf Gothoni, finds an intriguing accommodation between traditionaland more radical elements. Serial technique is employed, but the re-orderingsof a twelve-note row do not determine the substance of the composition asmediate between the diatonic and chromatic facets of the melodic and harmonicwriting. There are three movements, played without a break, with the durationof the outer two together equalling that of the inner one. 


In Viaggio opens with rippling piano figuration againstfragmentary orchestral writing, a passionate melody moving upwards through thestrings before the soloist comes fully into its own. Percussive interjectionsheighten tension, as the strings drive the movement to a dramatic conclusion.The plaintive piano writing which begins Sognando e libero is echoed by stringsand woodwind in tranquil repose. Towards mid-point the music unexpectedlygathers pace in a lively toccata, soloist and orchestra chasing each other upto a brutal climax, which ricochets into silence. The initial ideas arerecalled, transformed in a way that suggests innocence lost and irrecoverable.Piano and percussion begin the finale, Uccelli sulle passioni, in uncertainty,strings and brass entering to swell the music dynamically and expressively. Asin the first movement, strings soar upward, now against washes of 'bird sound'from the piano and the rest of the orchestra. The work does not so much end asrecede out of earshot, as its very opening is fleetingly recalled.


Rautavaara composed his Third Piano Concerto, subtitled'Gift of Dreams', for Vladimir Ashkenazy, who played and directed the premi?¿rewith the Helsinki Philharmonic in 1999. Again there are three movements, thoughthe opening movement almost equals the length of its successor. Gentlyexpressive string writing is complemented by that for the soloist, then thelatter moves the discourse onto a higher emotional plateau. Brass and bellsimperiously sound out the basic melodic motif, before the close in a mood ofdistanced calm. The second movement, marked Adagio assai, opens with ruminativepiano writing, the orchestra providing an expressive backdrop. Piano, stringsand timpani engage in a more rhetorical discourse, brass injecting an ominousnote, then the piano continues in a tranquil dialogue with solo wind. Theinitial mood is at length regained, leading to an ending of rapt inwardness.The finale, Energico, opens brusquely, proceeding, by way of severalalternately lively and reflective episodes, to a heightened apotheosis in whichideas from earlier in the work are recalled and transformed. The ending isagain inconclusive, the soloist fading into the distance against gentlyambiguous harmonies from brass and strings.


Richard Whitehouse



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Facts
Item number 8557009
Barcode 747313200924
Release date 01/09/2003
Category Concertos | Classical Music
Label Naxos Classics | Naxos Records
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Performers
Artists Laura Mikkola
Composers Einojuhani Rautavaara
Conductors Eri Klas
Orchestras Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra
Producers Phil Rowlands
Disc: 1
Isle of Bliss
1 Isle of Bliss
Piano Concerto No. 3, "Gift of Dreams"
2 I. Tranquillo
3 II. Adagio assai
4 III. Energico
Piano Concerto No. 2
5 I. In Viaggio
6 II. Sognando e libero
7 III. Uccelli sulle passioni
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