Rautavaara: Book of Visions etc. - Franck
Ondine ODE 1064-5
Classical - Orchestral
Einojuhani Rautavaara: Book of Visions, Adagio Celeste, Symphony No. 1
Orchestre National de Belgique
Mikko Franck (conductor)
Review by Graham Williams - November 29, 2005
Ondine have already given us a number of excellent recordings on CD of the music of Einojuhani Rautavaara, but this is the first to be issued on SACD.
Rautavaara writes music that is extremely beautiful and deeply felt. Although he has gone through a number of stylistic phases during his long career, including serialism, he has absorbed them into his own unique sound world and his late style combines modernism with mystical romanticism.
His Cantus Arcticus (1972), a concerto for birds and orchestra that is a combination of electronically processed taped birdsong and beautifully sonorous orchestral music has captured the public imagination, as has his ‘angel’ series (Angel of Light, Angels and Visitations, Angel of Dusk etc.).
The three works on the present disc span some fifty years of composition by Rautavaara.
It begins with the Symphony No 1 first written in 1955 but much revised and altered in both form and construction in 1988 and again in 2003.
The dramatic start of the first movement (15.44) is followed by a long, string dominated, andante, which gradually builds to a climax before fading back to silence. It is very reminiscent in mood to, say, the first movement of Shostakovich’s 6th symphony.
A lyrical slow movement (7.41), interpolated by Rautavaara in 2003, follows, which, with its prominent horn solos, is typical of his current romantic style.
With the very brief (4.06) finale, we are back in the world of Shostakovich. It is a grotesque scherzo with much use of percussion, low brass and squealing clarinets. It seems to lead nowhere and is over far too soon.
For me, the whole piece did not cohere as a symphony, but each of the three movements was enjoyable in isolation.
The short Adagio Celeste (7.31), that follows the symphony, is a hauntingly beautiful piece for strings inspired by a poem about love. It inhabits the sound world of Sibelius and even Mahler, and is played exquisitely by the National Orchestra of Belgium.
The longest (40.16) and, I believe, finest work on this disc is The Book of Visions composed between 2003 and 2005.
Rautavaara explains that the character and title of each of the four movements emerged from the music during composition rather than the other way round. They are:
1.A Tale of Night
2.A Tale of Fire
3.A Tale of Love
4.A Tale of Fate
The claps of orchestral thunder, cantabile melody and tolling bells of the first movement truly evokes night as “ a time of omens, of horror and splendour, of hidden treasures” and the poetic imagery of the other three movements is equally well captured in the music.
In the booklet notes Rautavaara describes Mikko Franck as a brilliant interpreter of his music, and Franck certainly obtains wonderfully rich sonorities from the orchestra of which he is the current musical director.
The sound captured by the Ondine engineers at the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels is very good indeed and the surround channels are used most discreetly to enhance the already spacious acoustic.
Copyright © 2005 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net