RAUTAVAARA: Concerto for Harp and Orchestra.
Symphony No. 8, "The Journey."
Marielle Nordmann, harp; Helsinki Philharmonic Orch/Leif Segerstam, cond.
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A brochure that accompanies
this CD proclaims it Ondines 20th
release of music by the Finnish composer who has finished first in
the post-Sibelius Olympicsahead of such competitors as
Joonas Kokkonen (1921-96), a dour neo-Classicist best known elsewhere
his opera The Last Temptation, and Aulis Sallinen (b. 1935), a more
prolific composer of concert music plus two operas that have been recorded,
Kullervo and The Palace.
Whereas Kokkonen wrote four symphonies, and Sallinen six (to date),
Rautawaara has eight to his creditNo. 7 is better known
as Angel of Lightall of them recorded by Ondine, plus
two operas, Thomas and Vincent [as in Van Gogh]. Stylistically his
music has ranged
all over the globe. I remember an abrasively ugly string quartet in
RCAs short-lived Catalyst series, coupled with an early recording
of the neo-Romantic Cantus Arcturus (the piece with with live bird
calls, arguably Rautawaaras most popular work to date) and what
may, but then may not have been Symphony No. 5. I sent it to friend
who is into Cantus Arcturus-type music, as I shall send this one tomorow.
The Concerto was written in Y2K for the Minnesota Orchestra and its
principal harpist, Kathy Kienzle, who edited the solo part for publication.
Rautawaara explains in a program note what he wanted to do, and how,
including two orchestral harps to back up the soloist for a solenne effect
in a finale that doesnt quite come off, at least not here.
Neither did I hear the drama he intended. The music, after
two basically tranquil movements indebted to Debussy and Messiaen,
more aggressive, but paradoxically the temperature does not rise. The
works initial theme borrows (minus the ominous double-basses)
from the opening measures of Sibelius Fourth Symphony, but sidesteps
the stark drama of that work. Basically it is background music for
an intimate dinnerat least the first two movements, and
since CDs can be programmed, the finale is skippable.
So is, for me, most of the 29-minute Eighth Symphony that follows,
composed in 1999 and subtitled The Journey. I played it several
times over but kept getting distracted by other things, like the newspaper
waiting to be read, for want of substance to compel and the focus attention.
A scherzo marked feroce starts promisingly but quits after
3 minutes. To call the finale con grandezza struck me as
self-aggrandizing. Symphony No. 8 is a piece that vacillates between
neo-Romantic and neo-Impressionistic without any subject matter one
might call Rautawaarianor for that matter any other composers.
The solo harpist, Marielle Nordmann from France, is a pupil of the
celebrated Lily Laskine. Her performance sounds (without a score to
check) at once impeccable and poetic. Leif Segerstam, of the Taliban-length
beard, leads Finlands oldest orchestra, which named him chief
conductor in 1995this in addition to his multiple duties
elsewhere in Scandinavia. His mood has tended to be expansive in almost
music he has recorded in recent years, but the sonority achieved in
both pieces here is impressive, and has been opulently recorded. From
this point on, though, youll have to mush it alone.
R.D. (Feb. 2002)