This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
This CD contains four recent works by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. With the recent announcement of his death they are no doubt among his last and are representative of his final stylistic period in which he abandoned earlier experiments in dodecaphony, use of bird song etc to return to a high romantic style reminiscent at times, inevitably, of Sibelius and even more, perhaps, of Dvořák, though always, always sounding like Rautavaara.
The first piece is a setting for orchestra and baritone of four excerpts from Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubáiyát. It is gorgeous music; full of melodic invention and colour. It’s greatly helped by a very fine performance by Gerald Finley in the solo part and the excellent Helsinki Philharmonic under John Storgårds; who feature in all the pieces on the disc. Canto V; Into the Heart of Lightis a very densely scored piece for string orchestra. It’s intriguing with the violins carrying most of the line with the lower strings injecting fragments of melody and counterpoint concluding with a truly elegiac finish from the cellos.
Balada is a cantata for tenor, choir and orchestra based on a never completed opera about Federico Garciá Lorca. It sets texts by the poet in the original Spanish. Again what strikes one is the intensity of the music, here heightened by the use of dramatic tenor Mika Pohjonen in the solo part. There is some very interesting writing for the lower strings here too. The choir is the Helsinki Music Centre Choir and they are very good indeed. They feature as well in the final piece; Four Songs from the Opera Rasputin. This sets four episodes from what we must now call the composer’s last opera. Unsurprisingly one hears Russian influences here; certainly Mussorgsky, perhaps Shostakovitch. The piece starts out almost pensively before descending into near chaos in the final section, Shine, Zion, shine! It’s perhaps fitting that the music, at the very end of a long career should call to mind Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night”.
This is a very fine disc with excellent performances of some really excellent pieces. The recording throughout is clear and well balanced and full texts are provided in the original language, English and Finnish. Recommended.