RAUTAVAARA: Complete Works for Male Choir – YL Male Voice Choir/ Mati Hyokki, conductor/ Talla Vocal Ensemble/ Pasi Hyokki, conductor – Ondine ODE 1125 (2 CDs), 99:08 **** [Distr. by Universal]:
Stop! Wait! If you have come this far (or even accidentally), don’t be turned off by a double album of male choral music. I know, I know, normally this might be something of a “Halt, verboten!” to me also, but in this case it would be a mistake to bypass it, for this is not just choral music, but choral music by a Finnish composer, and the male choir is one of the most popular examples of the genre—the Finns love it, and Rautavaara is only following in the footsteps of Sibelius in creating such a vast load of it. (By the way, this two-disc set can be had online for about $19.)
There are two choirs here, the YL Male Voice Choir (Helsinki University Choir), one of the greatest in the world and also the dedicatee of just about everything Sibelius wrote for it. The other is a smaller 10-voice ensemble called the Talla Vocal Ensemble, a subset of the larger choir, and used when appropriately lesser and more clearly defined voices are called for. Both are, in a word, phenomenal, and well worth the effort and purchase. If you buy this you get essentially all of Rautavaara’s up-to-date choral work, and while I cannot take the time to go into each and every one of the 19-odd pieces on the album, I can assure you that none is dull or in any way undeserving of occupying a space here. I do understand that, even with such accolades as I have presented here, many people just will not want to delve into a double-disc set of male voices, and I do understand. But sometimes generalizations and preconceptions are dead wrong, and this happens to be one of those cases. If you are new to the composer, I cannot suggest that this be your first exposure—try maybe his Symphony No. 7, “Angels of Light”, on any of three recordings, all of which are excellent—but do get around to this music, as even a cursory interest in it will reap rich rewards!
Disc 1 – The Singer, Autumn at the Rivermouth, Two Preludes of T.S. Eliot, Two Psalms, Ave Maria, Christmas Hymn, A Book of Life
Disc 2 – Four Songs to Poems by Aleksis Kivi, Legend, Leaves are Leaves, Four Serenades, Hammarskjold Fragment, Antti Isotalo and Rannanjarvi, Janne of Halli, The Fox and the Sick Cockerel, Four Romances from the Opera Rasputin
— Steven Ritter