ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - Towards the Horizon

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EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA - Cello Concerto No. 2 "Towards the Horizon" - Modificata - Percussion Concerto "Incantations" - John Storgårds (Conductor) - Truls Mørk (Cello) - Colin Currie (Percussion) - Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra - 0761195117828 - Released: February 2012 - Ondine ODE1178-2

I'm afraid I've painted myself into a corner with this review. You see, I usually review only recordings that I feel are good to excellent from start to finish, and generally avoid publishing reviews of recordings that fail to attain a certain level of quality parameters, be they for musical, artistic or technical reasons. I've never seen the point to negative reviews anyway. Now because of these guidelines, this new recording presents to me a serious impasse and a troubling dilemma. One of the pieces on this CD is an impressive new work and one of the finest examples of music written within the last five years, whilst another new composition on this CD is one of the best examples of how bad, music written within the last five years can be. Keeping in mind of course that this is only my opinion, and as we all know, opinions are suggestive and can be influenced by many outside factors.

Let's start with the good news. Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) established himself during the 1950s by applying modernist and serial techniques to his music, but then quickly devised his own "tonal" structure to which he's pretty well stuck to ever since, and developed a personal style that is now easily identifiable and a pleasure to listen to. His Cello Concerto No. 2 "Towards the Horizon" from 2009, is a prime example of this. Opulent themes, expansive lines, colorful orchestration, and the clever and well managed use of two of his trademark techniques; a semi-constant state of vibrant energy, like the birth of a maelstrom within the orchestral under-currents, and the simultaneous combination of semitones spread over an octave (G and G# for example) over long melodic lines, creating an ethereal effect when used sparingly. Throw in some long, ardent, neo-romantic lines for the cello to establish the core of the work, and you have a winning combination of various factors that come together to form an impressive concerto. Add to all this moments of exceptional beauty, during the final moments of the work, where the cello soars to the highest register and practically assumes the role of a violin and, at the very end, becomes the horizon. Cellist Truls Mørk, the work's dedicatee, delivers a première interpretation that sets the bar very high for future contenders. His singing tone and effortless portamento are commendable.

1957's Modificata, heard here in it's 2003 revision, reveals the 12-tone Rautavaara. This revision incorporates the use of another work from the same year, Prævariata, as the first movement of the present day piece. Prævariata is considered to be the first Finnish serialist work. It's central movement in particular has all the indications of a composer with a sure hand and a solid grasp of effective orchestration. It is interesting to hear as a strong example of a pre-Rautavaara, before his own unique identity manifested itself.

And now the bad news. The 2008 Percussion Concerto "Incantations". The Pesante (heavy) first movement sounds 'lazy' rather than heavy. The unique Rautavaara traits applied effectively in the Cello Concerto are so overdone here as to become disagreeable and unpleasant. And notwithstanding the fact that Colin Currie is one of the most sought-after percussionists, some of the music he has to play in this concerto sounds like the stuff you would hear coming from a teenager practicing on a drum kit in his garage. The whole thing sounds like a piecemeal of different and unrelated ideas. My criticism may seem harsh, but I don't understand how two works composed a year apart can be so drastically different in quality.

There is also a typo indicating the total time duration of the CD. The individual pieces are 21:16, 17:15 and 23:44, and yet the total time printed on the back cover is listed as being 70:31. So there you have it. A wonderful Cello Concerto and a terrible Percussion Concerto on the same disc. Listen to one and not the other? Or better yet, listen to both. You may like the Percussion Concerto, and think that I'm off my rocker on that one.

At the bottom of this review, I've included an Amazon mp3 player with samples of this CD. You be the judge!

Jean-Yves Duperron - April 2012