About this Recording
8.570069 - RAUTAVAARA: Symphony No. 8, "The Journey" / Manhattan Trilogy / Apotheosis
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Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928)
Symphony No. 8 ‘The Journey’ • Manhattan Trilogy • Apotheosis

 

The Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara was born in Helsinki on 9th October, 1928. Having graduated from Helsinki University in 1952, he studied at the Sibelius Academy with Aarre Merikanto and, after winning a Koussevitzky Foundation fellowship in 1955, with Vincent Persichetti at the Juilliard School, as well as with Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions at Tanglewood. He furthered his studies in Ascona with Vladimir Vogel and in Cologne with Rudolf Petzold. A lecturer at the Sibelius Academy from 1966 to 1971, he was then appointed to the state position of Professor in Arts. Since 1990 he has devoted himself exclusively to composition, his music having received numerous awards and been featured on many recordings.

Rautavaara’s early pieces, typified by the prize-winning A Requiem in Our Time (1953), drew upon the Nordic classicism of Sibelius and Nielsen, as well as the influences of Bartók, Shostakovich and folk-music. His Fourth Symphony (1962) was among the first Finnish works to employ serial techniques, while the later widening of his stylistic range gave rise, in 1972, to two of his most enduring works, Vigilia, drawing on Orthodox liturgical chant, and Cantus Arcticus (Naxos 8.554147), employing taped birdsong alongside modal and aleatoric (chance-derived) elements. A greater tonal orientation is evident in his more recent music, such as the Symphonies Nos. 5 to 8 (No. 7 on Naxos 8.555814) and operas Thomas (1985), Vincent (1987) and Aleksis Kivi (1997). Meanwhile, the growing recognition accorded his music can be gauged from the international commissions he has received over the last decade.

The three works featured here give a fair idea of the direction that Rautavaara’s orchestral music has taken during the last decade. Apotheosis (1996) is a revision of the final movement from his Sixth Symphony (1992); itself the symphonic reworking of music from the opera Vincent, which explains its subtitle ‘Vincentiana’. The instrumentation is without the synthesizer which, in the opera, evokes the paintings of the Dutch master, but the musical content remains substantially the same. Over rustling lower strings, violins unfold an expansive melody, replete with woodwind arabesques, that conjures up an inward but intense atmosphere. The melodic line presently migrates to the woodwind, who muse on it in a plaintive pastorale, before strings resume their discourse; the piece soon reaching an ecstatic climax with skirling strings and chorale-like brass to the fore, before the music subsides in a haze of string textures, leaving isolated woodwind to disturb the serene close.

Manhattan Trilogy (2004) is among the most recent examples of Rautavaara’s orchestral work, having been commissioned by the Juilliard Orchestra and first performed by them under Dennis Russell Davies in October 2005. Although it does not constitute a symphonic piece as such, the slow-fast-slow sequence certainly equates to classical precedent, while the thematic working and textural elaboration follow on directly from the composer’s practice in his last four symphonies. Also, while each of the movement titles could easily have been inspired by the images and associations of the New York cityscape, they are also representative of those to be found in Rautavaara’s music throughout the last quarter-century. The first piece, Daydreams, opens in brooding fashion before giving way to a plaintive melody shared initially between oboe and clarinet, over a gently-strummed harp accompaniment, with solo violin and flute later adding their continuation. Horns then usher in a more restless central section, with divided strings to the fore, before the earlier discourse is resumed and the music heads to a gentle close. The second piece, Nightmares, is launched with quiet but agitated gestures from upper strings and brass, with tension increasing as the music becomes more dissonant and its textures more elaborate. This is cut off to reveal distantly musing strings, but the music again builds in intensity to a brief climax, muted brass take over the quiet string passage, continued by woodwind, before brass and percussion effect an assault that dies away as suddenly as it had come about. The third piece, Dawn, opens with wistful woodwind exchanges over pensive strings. Upper strings then bring about a culmination in the guise of a sustained threnody, intensified by the contribution of harp arabesques and ominous percussive gestures, before quickly receding to the sound of distant bells.

Given its première by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Wolfgang Sawallisch in April 2000, the Eighth Symphony (1999) remains Rautavaara’s most recent contribution to the genre. Subtitled ‘The Journey’, it pursues its metamorphosis of ideas in ways similar to those of his previous three symphonies, but here the order of movements has an almost classical followthrough; pointedly so in the second and third, whose contrast is emphasized by having them play without pause.

Against a pulsating backdrop, the first movement starts with lower strings and woodwind intoning a ruminative melodic line that gradually rises through the texture, to be answered by violins as the music slowly rises in its emotional intensity. There is no appreciable increase in tempo as the movement proceeds; rather, the discourse opens out to include passages for various groups of woodwind and strings, all of which are derived from the melodic line heard at the outset. The ensuing climax finds this material being passionately restated by the upper strings, and also underpinned by resonant percussive gestures, before it dies away in a shimmering textural haze that leaves the musical ‘journey’ thoughtfully in abeyance.

The scherzo is among the most concentrated and propulsive pieces in all of Rautavaara’s later output. Although the backdrop is one of ricocheting brass and percussion, the melodic material is a rapid transformation of that from the first movement, now broken up by angular interjections. Without a break, the slow movement starts from a very different perspective, solo horn heard against spectral violins and chorale-like responses from lower strings and woodwind. This music continues in a wide range of textures and instrumental combinations, before a brief climax is reached; the movement then returning to its initial horn melody just before the close. It is also worth noting that an idea from Thomas is quoted during its course - where it is sung to the words “This journey goes on … whose is it? Of one who wanders from the end of the journey, beyond time?” - but this is an isolated occurrence and (unlike the Sixth Symphony and Vincent) the symphony is otherwise unrelated to the opera.

The finale is launched with sustained string phrases, capped by bells, and evincing an atmosphere of some spiritual import. Brass and woodwind further contribute to this impression, as the music slowly builds in intensity and takes on greater rhythmic momentum as it does so. The melodic writing similarly gains in flexibility, until the brass and percussion bring about a return to the movement’s initial material. The music now heads determinedly to an apotheosis that not only clinches the thematic continuity across the work but also sees it through to an ending as powerful as it is affirmative.

Richard Whitehouse


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