RAUTAVAARA: 12 Concertos – Tapiola Sinfonietta/ Helsinki PO, Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra/ Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Bavarian Radio Symphony. Conductors (respectively): Leif Segerstam, Max Pommer, Jean-Jacques Kantorow, Juha Kangas, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, and Vladimir Ashkenazy [PlayList below] – Ondine ODE 1156-2Q (4 CDs). About four and a half hours. [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Like the German composer Paul Hindemith, Finish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara loves composing concertos with diverse instruments. You get to hear them all in this stimulating collection, one that proves that in the field of composition, he can do just about anything—even be bad. This is the only collection of his concertos and it is splendidly performed. Try some of the unusual ones first. His Concerto for Organ, Brass Quintet and Symphonic Wind Orchestra, early in the score, bursts the pious mode that’s chained organ music for past five centuries. Like an impish child, it peeks around corners and startles with its concoctions: a warbly instrument (an Ondes Martenot? A theremin?), brash percussion, inventive string accompaniment. His Concerto for Birds and Orchestra (“Cantus Articus”) is his strangest, although composers have incorporated animal sounds before in their works. (Alan Hovhaness loved his whales.) But this piece really does conjure up a sense of place: With its pre-recorded bird sounds and hypnotic strings, it suggests a trip to the shivery arctic tundra.
The Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra (“Angel of Dusk”) is a knotty, dense work with Esko Laine on the double bass. His cadenza in the middle of the work astounds. There are three piano concertos, two as bright and daring as Bartok’s; the third—alas–disappointing. It’s probably not all Rautavaara’s fault. He composed this last one for pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, who also wanted to conduct as he played. Bad decision. The themes are trite and unadventurous, the musical ideas few, and the mood veers frequently into mawkish land. No matter, the other concertos are worth listening to many times over. The Concerto for Flute and Orchestra and the one for Clarinet and Orchestra are spunky works, particularly with Patrick Gallois and Richard Stoltzman performing. Listen to the short and sweet Vivace in the Concerto for Flute and you may not be able to turn off the rest of the work. And there is the Concerto for Violin and with its ghostly romantic opening, the Shostakovichian Cello Concerto (particularly that feisty Vivace), and the unorthodox Concerto for Harp and Orchestra. How can you go wrong?
1. Concerto for Cello, Op. 41
2. Concerto for Clarinet
3. Concerto for Flute, Op. 69 "Dances with the Winds"
4. Concerto for Harp
5. Cantus Arcticus, Op. 61 "Concerto for Birds and Orchestra"
6. Concerto for Piano No. 1, Op. 45
7. Concerto for Piano No. 2
8. Concerto for Piano No. 3 "Gift of Dreams"
9. Ballad for Harp and Strings
10. Angel of Dusk
12. Concerto for Violin
— Peter Bates