“Fantasia” = Violin works by RAUTAVAARA; SZYMANOWSKI; RAVEL – Anne Akiko Meyers, violin/Philharmonia Orchestra/Kristjan Jarvi – Avie Records 

“Fantasia” = EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA: Fantasia; KAROL SZYMANOWSKI: Violin Concerto No. 1; MAURICE RAVEL: Tzigane – Anne Akiko Meyers, violin/Philharmonia Orchestra/Kristjan Jarvi – Avie Records AV2385, 48:16, (10/06/17) ****:

A beautiful collection of mid-modern masterworks.

Even if your only reason to acquire this beautiful and luxurious collection is out of curiosity for Rautavaara’s Fantasia for violin and orchestra then go get a copy—immediately.

I admit that, for me, this was exactly my motivation and not due to curiosity. I have been a complete admirer of the late, great Finnish master’s music for over forty years and have never had an unfulfilling experience. Rautavaara’s music has always been a bit unique and hard to describe but for its lush, semi-Impressionistic orchestrations and beautiful slowly unfolding melodies. His early output was a bit more ‘post-Schoenberg’ and, while well-constructed and interesting though the early atonal stuff was, it is virtually all of Einojuhani’s output from the mid-1970s on for which he deserves to be remembered as one of the twentieth century’s great composers. The Fantasia was written in 2015 for Anne Akiko Meyers and is his last finished work, the composer having died in July, 2016. It is absolutely resplendent and evocative of the composer’s icy but twinkling sunrises of his native Finland. I cannot say enough about the beauty of this piece and of all Rautavaara’s music. I cherish a hand-written note I have from the composer re: his Sonate for clarinet from about forty years ago and I am quite envious of Anne Akiko Meyers that she actually got to meet him.

Yet, the other two better known works in this collection are played equally amazingly by Anne and are among the best recordings of each I have heard. Polish composer Karol Szymanowski wrote his first Violin Concerto in 1920 and shows much of the composer’s own characteristic orchestral color and evocative flavor that owes something to both post-Impressionism as well as to the same mysticism and eastern tinge as one finds in his third Symphony, “Song of the Night.” While marked in three sections, the Concerto is written in one single, fluid and heady movement that bears very little conventional concerto structure. It is a beautiful and very unique work that does not get  performed nearly as often as it ought to, in my opinion.

The best-known work here is the Ravel Tzigane. This very showy and gypsy inflected showpiece was written by Ravel in 1924 for the young Hungarian virtuoso Jelly d’Aranji. A favorite of many concert violinists, this is an audience pleasing mélange of twists and turns and fanciful bow work that in places evokes the gypsy lifestyle and even a little Klezmer inflection. I have always liked this work, as do many, but both the Rautavaara as well as the Szymanowski offer more ‘stop everything and just listen’ attraction.

California born Anne Akiko Meyers is one of the world’s greatest violinists who specializes a bit in modern repertoire and music less heard. I for one have heard her several times before and am a big fan of her playing and of this music in particular. So, as I said, if you have never heard anything by Einojuhani Rautavaara before or the Szymanowski Concerto; what a pity. Go get this amazing collection!

—Daniel Coombs

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