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Rautavaara: Symphony No. 8 / Inkinen, New Zealand Symphony

Release Date: 03/25/2008 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570069   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Einojuhani Rautavaara
Conductor:  Pietari Inkinen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 56 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RAUTAVAARA Apotheosis. Manhattan Trilogy. Symphony No. 8, “The Journey” Pietari Inkinen, cond; New Zealand SO NAXOS 8.570069 (56:12)

Many people don’t know, and many who know don’t care, that composer Einojuhani Rautavaara is the son of one of the most distinguished lyric sopranos of the 20th century, Aulikki Rautavaara, who sang Mozart at the first Glyndebourne Festivals of the 1930s. I mention this not to show off knowledge but to illustrate that Read more in a home where lyric operatic music was part of his daily routine, Rautavaara apparently picked up his love of sweeping lyrical melody in his music.

My previous exposure to his music, more than a quarter century ago, did not leave a very favorable impression on me, but I am more than open to hearing whether any composer or artist has grown within their careers, and so I was curious to hear this CD. I cannot say that the opening work, “Apotheosis,” impressed me greatly. It seemed lyrically moody, not so bad that I would categorize it as classical mood music, but not as interesting as I would have liked. The Manhattan Trilogy, written in 2004 on commission by the Juilliard Orchestra, also began with typically broad sweeping melodies in the first movement, “Daydreams.” But in the second movement, “Nightmares,” Rautavaara took a new direction, not only in mood and construction but particularly in orchestration. Closely harmonized tone clusters played by agitated strings lead into a somber yet vague theme played by trombones and horns in their lowest register along with cellos, then violas and tuba. The higher instruments—violins, flutes, clarinets, oboes, and high trumpets—act as an eerie foil for the grounded lower instruments. This is followed by a quiet passage played by muted strings but assaulted by percussion, piercing flutes, and clarinets before it dies away. The third movement, “Dawn,” begins with what sounds to me like a clarinet playing in its lowest register while middle-range strings set up a soft passage in a steady rocking rhythm; piccolo plays high above it; but here the mood is less sinister, more a resignation in accepting the beginning of a new day rather than a rejoicing in it. Unfortunately, “Dawn” has less focus as a well-developed piece than “Nightmares,” and this proved to be the one quality of Rautavaara’s music that I found, and still find, unsettling. He comes up with good ideas—several of them, in fact—and his scoring is imaginative and evocative, but he often seems to ramble, Bruckner-like, without (to my ears) either a clear focus or clear development. As a creator of mood, he is undeniably brilliant, but in a sense his music seems to me a bit too rambling. A much finer composer in a similar vein is the far less-well-known P?teris Vasks.

Rautavaara’s Eighth Symphony, composed in 1999, is a perfect case in point. Much of the same kind of imaginative scoring ideas and a certain amount of musical and emotional direction abound in its four movements, yet when the symphony was over I felt that something tried to happen but never quite succeeded. Rautavaara is undeniably a master of orchestration as well as tone color; he knows how to produce haunting and/or calming sounds from an orchestra; yet so often, as for instance the cello and trombone theme in the first movement, he reaches a point where he simply ruminates. The second movement, Feroce, is full of piquant grotesqueries in the manner of Mahler. My likening him to Bruckner is not meant to say that his music is old-fashioned; certainly tonality can still work if the composer knows his or her oats. But like Bruckner, Rautavaara appears to compose large structures out of a few massive building blocks. The differences, I suppose, are indigenous to the respective times they lived in. Bruckner seldom touched, let alone reached for, dark moods or feelings, and certainly never sensuous ones, while Rautavaara does both, but both composers often simply juxtapose themes rather than develop, though I found more development in Rautavaara’s music.

Unlike my attitude toward so many of the new orchestral CDs I’ve reviewed lately, I have nothing but the highest praise for Pietari Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony. Both conductor and orchestra are really into this music; they connect on a very deep level, and in fact the moments I enjoyed most were when musicians and material really clicked. The sound quality is warm and lush, which is particularly apropos for Rautavaara’s music. I hope I have not unduly put you off this CD; it is certainly worth hearing once. I was glad to listen to it as living proof that there are composers and young conductors out there who still care about music as art, and who do their level best to stir the heart as well as stimulate the mind. For Rautavaara fans especially, highly recommended.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 8 "The Journey" by Einojuhani Rautavaara
Conductor:  Pietari Inkinen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; Finland 
Length: 11 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: Finland (1992).
Composition revised: Finland (1996). 
Apotheosis by Einojuhani Rautavaara
Conductor:  Pietari Inkinen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; Finland 
Length: 7 Minutes 54 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: Finland (1992).
Composition revised: Finland (1996). 
Manhattan Trilogy by Einojuhani Rautavaara
Conductor:  Pietari Inkinen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Helsinki, Finland 
Length: 7 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: Helsinki, Finland (2003 - 2005). 

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