Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set:
The Last Frontier
It's taken far too long for classical musicians--and through them, the world's classical audiences--to recognize the substantial creative credentials of 71-year-old Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. His past and ongoing contributions to 20th century music, especially in the symphonic arena, are now being fully and authoritatively explored--performed and recorded by some of the world's best orchestras, choirs, and soloists. This new recording, part of the "Rautavaara Collection" series on Finnish label Ondine, is an excellent place to begin if you're looking for an introduction to Rautavaara's music.
Rautavaara's music almost invariably conveys a sense of forward motion--another Sibelius trademark--often manifested in layered melodies and ostinato figures. Listen to the opening minutes of the "Fantasy for Chorus and Orchestra, 1997", On the Last Frontier, and you'll literally feel the movement and be carried along with it. Leif Segerstam and his Helsinki Philharmonic really know this music and revel in it--in the best sense of the word. The sound is full and detailed, if slightly boomy in the loudest passages. Rautavaara's music seems to be appearing more often in more places these days, and thanks to labels such as Ondine and BIS, we can expect this welcome trend to continue.
– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Sacred Choral Works
Choral enthusiasts--no, make that all lovers of beautiful, accessible, yet intellectually challenging and emotionally affecting music--put this on your list of absolutely must have discs. And, without running the risk of misrepresenting the music's character one little bit, I assure you that you will be pleasantly surprised to find that these pieces have a profound spiritual depth not born of fashionable compositional or pseudo-ecclesiastical devices (think John Tavener here) but rather spring from impeccable technique--Rautavaara's absolutely "right" instincts for text setting and choral timbre and texture, and from his incredibly vibrant, scintillating harmonic language. It helps to have the composer's own notes that partially explain the works performed and briefly refer to his lifelong interest in "metaphysical and religious topics and texts." If religion is defined as a "feeling for and affinity to infinity", then, Rautavaara says, "I obviously am religious."
The works span a period of 40 years and range from service-oriented yet concert-level music--psalms, a magnificent Magnificat, communion hymns, a setting of The Lord's Prayer, a short Mass, and an Ave Maria--to a beautiful Christmas hymn, "Marjatan jouluvirsi" (Marjatta's Christmas Hymn), taken from Rautavaara's mystery play Marjatta, Lowly Maiden, a setting of the last canto of the Kalevala. There's not an inferior piece among the 15 featured works, and the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir once again amazes us with its superior technique, bright, richly colored tone, and knowing interpretive sense. This is wonderful stuff, and very difficult to sing--but it doesn't have that pretentious, self-consciously complex manner that lesser composers sometimes use to lend (artificial) legitimacy to second-rate work. It's clear, from this and several other recent recordings of Rautavaara's music, instrumental and vocal, that this 71-year-old Finnish master truly commands a musical language that's not only very much of and in the present, but that, because it follows its own original course, will continue to be heard when the bells toll for the third millennium.
– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
If the prospect of an all-night vigil sung unaccompanied in Finnish doesn’t enthrall you, don’t worry: you’re not alone. But give this disc a try, if you can: it delivers far more than it promises. Einojuhani Rautavaara is not only Finland’s leading composer of symphonies, he is also a fine setter of words, as a substantial corpus of choral and other vocal works testifies. The inspiration for Vigilia, subtitled ‘All-Night Vigil in Memory of St John the Baptist’, was a childhood visit to an island monastery, where the impressionable youngster experienced tolling bells, bearded monks in robes, and saints, kings and angels in iconic form. These dazzling images were distilled many years later into two unaccompanied service settings, Vespers and Matins, that draw on a comparably rich variety of textures and techniques: growling bassi profundi, soloists appearing both singly and in pairs, and a chorus that occasionally breaks into expressive glissandi and clusters. The Finnish Radio Chamber Choir under Timo Nuoranne is more than a match for all this, communicating a wide emotional range with urgency and unassuming virtuosity. The five soloists are equally admirable, and the end result is a work that can give immense satisfaction on both aesthetic and spiritual levels.
Performance: 5 (out of 5); Sound: 5 (out of 5)
– Barry Millington, BBC Music Magazine