Sibelius looms over northern composers like an incoming storm. Listen to En Saga after the Rautavaara disc and you will appreciate their congruence. Both are bold, heroic, stark, broadly expansive. The northern landscape is the metaphor.
Rautavaara is a major symphonist. His ideas unfold inexorably, logically, to highly charged emotional climaxes. The orchestration is lean, transparent. Triumphant horn calls, high shimmering strings, massed brass with percussion, growling lower chords: Rautavaara’s is a noble signature maintaining the Sibelian legacy.
The Symphony No. 1 composed in 1955, revised in 2003, is in three movements. It is meditative, long-lined and lyrical with a decidedly ironic Shostakovich-like scherzo/ burlesk finale, virtually a Romantic work, tightly knit and economically timed at 27:31 mins. This is a finely-crafted first symphony.
Adagio Celeste for string orchestra, composed in 1997, revised in 2000, is inspired by 1982 verses of the Finnish poet, Lassi Nummi. Here is a brief, highly charged piece, depicting the sense of quietude and yearning for love able to transcend the tumult of the outer world. Barber’s Adagio for Strings comes to mind.
Book of Visions from 2003/2005 is in four movements: A Tale of Night, Fire, Love and Fate – each with special personal associations for Rautavaara. These are highly evocative jewel-like tone poems , composed with an enormously wide-ranging orchestral palette.
The young Finnish conductor, Mikko Franck, is cited by the composer as a brilliant interpreter of his music. Indeed, one could hardly find more committed and thrilling performances of these works. Franck is the Music Director of the National Orchestra of Belgium, which plays these Rautavaara selections with great panache and tonal splendor. Rautavaara’s orchestral virtuosity has found a master advocate in Mikko Franck.
Ondine recorded this Rautavaara disc at the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels in June 2005. The multichannel SACD captures the sound of the NOB in glorious hall-like ambience. This is a terrific disc by a master symphonist-expertly performed and recorded. Highly recommended.
— Ronald Legum