RAUTAVAARA: Symphony No. 8, “The Journey”; Manhattan Trilogy; Apotheosis – New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/ Pietari Inkinen, conductor – Naxos

by | May 11, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

RAUTAVAARA: Symphony No. 8, “The Journey”; Manhattan Trilogy; Apotheosis – New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/ Pietari Inkinen, conductor – Naxos 8.570069, 56:12 ***1/2:

Einojuhani Rautavaara is one of the major composers of our time, and one of the answers to those who lament the supposed dearth of terrific tonal talent in our age. Sometimes one just has to look, and if you have been put off by his difficult name, or the odd descriptive titles that often accompany his music, look again and dive right in. Is he the successor to Sibelius? Well, I would say that his claim his greater than anyone else’s these days, and there is no lack of the chilly warmth that infuses the works of the symphonic master from early last century. And Rautavaara has not suffered on record, with more than 86 recordings currently in the catalog, including three CDs and one DVD of his latest symphony, The Journey, premiered by Sawallisch and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2000.

This work is a very fine one, perhaps not as eruptive as some of the other works, and with a decidedly lyrical bent. Particularly noticeable is the second movement scherzo and the last movement, where the composer harmonizes the lead melodic line in major and minor seconds—very striking and effective, as he scores the music such that the harmonization is kept secondary to the main line, giving a dissonant shimmer to the music without losing the basic tonal effect. Manhattan Trilogy could have been penned by William Schuman in parts, and is a tone poem of vivid impressions of aspects of a stay in New York in three movements, “Daydreams”, “Nightmares”, and “Dawn”. The Apotheosis (1996) is actually a revised version of the forth movement of his Sixth Symphony, “Vincentiana” (1992), itself based on music taken from his opera of Van Gogh provenance, Vincent. All in all a rewarding and valuable disc.
There are a few issues with the usually reliable New Zealand Orchestra, mainly involving unanimity of ensemble in a few spots, and just a smidgeon of tuning problems in a couple of places. Otherwise this is a very well-balanced ensemble, and Naxos has captured them in excellent sound. I can’t recommend this over the Ondine recording of this same symphony with Leif Segerstam, or even the BIS recording with Osmo Vanska; but if you do not know the composer this is an excellent way to make his acquaintance at a reasonable price, and the recording is certainly competitive.

— Steven Ritter

 

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