Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rautavaara, Sibelius' heir

Few countries' classical music have been dominated so much by one composer as Finland. Many casual classical music lovers would be hard pressed to name one Finnish composer besides Sibelius. Which is not fair to the likes of Aho, Crusell, Madetoja, Kokkonen and especially Sallinen and Rautavaara, who are amongst my favourite living composers. Spotlight today is on Einojuhani Rautavaara (born 1928). There is a pastoral beauty in much of his works, even though he writes in a distinctly modern idiom. If you have been following my blog for a few years, you may remember the main composition on the CD from the Unusual Concerto Series. Scored for taped bird sounds and orchestra, the 1972 composition Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for Birds and Orchestra) weaves recordings of bogs, larks and swans into the orchestral tapestries with great cunning. This work is probably his best known, and for me one of the best composition of the second half of the 20th century. The other pieces on the CD are no fillers either. The first piano concerto from 1969 is a dazzling piece, receving a brilliant performance here. The third symphony from 1960 may be less famous than his later ones, but deserves attention nonetheless for its almost Brucknerian approach - a romantic dodecaphonic masterpiece. These compositions are expertly played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Hannu Lintu, with Laura Mikkola on piano in the concerto. The recording is great as well -as is the fascinating cover design. All in all, an essential bargain priced CD to start to explore one of the greatest living composers.