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Robert R. Reilly, July 2008

Einojuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) may be the most popular symphonist alive today. All you have to do is listen to the new Naxos CD (8.570069) featuring his Symphony No. 8, The Journey, Manhattan Trilogy, and Apotheosis to understand why—sumptuous sweeping music of almost cinematic character, beautifully performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, under Pietari Inkinen.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, July 2008

The performances here by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra are fine and sound quite committed under the baton of their young music director, Pietari Inkinen, who, by the way, is also a fine violinist. The Naxos sound is excellent. Recommended.

Carla Rees
MUSO, July 2008

The influences on Rautavaara are many. Born in Finland, he studied at Helsinki University and the Sibelius Academy before travelling to America, where he trained with Persichetti at Juilliard and Copland and Sessions at Tanglewood.

The opening piece, Apotheosis, reminded me of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, both in terms of its inherent romanticism and its musical language. Conceived as a reworking of the final movement of the Sixth Symphony, Rautavaara’s rich harmonies become increasingly dissonant towards the climactic points, creating a wonderful sound and well-paced tensions. The piece is in arch-form, building gradually towards its final crescendo, before reprising the earlier material for a gentle and poetic end.

The Manhattan Suite, composed for the Juilliard Symphony Orchestra and first performed in 2005, opens in a less complex harmonic language, with extended solos for oboe and clarinet with the violin taking the melodic interest over repeated chords. A more complex central section returns some of Rautavaara’s more dissonant language, before the initial mood returns with solos for woodwind and violin. The second movement, Nightmare is dark and brooding, with repeated figures building up tension. Rautavaara uses parallel intervals to create dissonance, with the same musical line heard simultaneously at different pitches throughout the orchestra. The effect is striking, with a rich and dramatic sound. The final movement builds gradually, as one would perhaps expect from a Dawn scene. The music develops in intensity, with a haunting melodic line becoming stronger and louder towards the peak of the movement just before the end.

Symphony No. 8 The Journey has a film-like feel. Strong, dark and powerful, the opening movement possesses its own life-force which drives the work forwards. The composer has retained the rich, romantic feel of the other works on the disc, but this is music with a true sense of depth. The darkness is appealing, and one is aware that the journey referred to in the title is no ordinary voyage. The second movement takes on a faster, more dramatic nature, as if impending danger is merely seconds away. The driving force here is brass and percussion, who give strength to this short but exciting episode. The third movement continues without a break, and provides a stark contrast. The music is slow and contemplative, featuring a beautifully played horn solo. The final movement has renewed vigour, but the melancholy spirit remains. Long melodies are punctuated by the sound of bells, and the rich harmonies are all encompassing as the music builds gradually to its climax. The movement has the epic feel of a film soundtrack and is instantly likeable but at the same time possesses a musical depth that would entice a listener to return again and again.

This is an enjoyable disc, with some excellent playing from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. There are some wonderful moments, particularly when the brass and percussion are used to add a further dimension to the orchestral sound. The music retains its momentum throughout, and the tension created through increasing use of dissonance is a large part of the music’s appeal. This is contemporary music with tunes, but with sufficient dissonant interest in the musical language to remain fresh and enough of a musical challenge to be exciting to hear. Much can be gained from listening to Rautavaara’s music, both emotionally and intellectually, and this is a performance of which the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Pietari Inkinen deserve to be proud.

Lynn Rene Bayley
Fanfare, July 2008

...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.

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, May 2008

Superbly recorded, couplings of the new with the old from the Finnish master

Rautavaara studied at the Juilliard School in 1955–56 and Manhattan Trilogy (2004) was commissioned to celebrate its centennial. In recalling his youthful sojourn in the Big Apple, the composer deployed the full panoply of his late orchestral manner in a hugely engaging triptych describing his “hopeful Daydreams”, “sudden Nightmares of doubt” and “slowly breaking Dawn of the personality”. Where Segerstam’s vivid interpretation, allied to Ondine’s sumptuous recording, glows through its 20 minutes, Inkinen provides a beautifully focused reading, nearly two minutes swifter, with every detail brought out to telling effect.

Not the most gripping of Rautavaara’s recent orchestral essays—the brilliant Book of Visions (also available on Ondine) is that—Manhattan Trilogy is nonetheless accomplished. What connects it to the Third Symphony (1959–61) is the treatment of the past. The symphony—one of the finest of the post-war period, serially organised within a vibrant tonal framework—recreates the idiom of Bruckner (albeit with echoes of Janacek in the orchestration in places, the Einar Englund of the Blackbird Symphony in the flute-writing) from a late-1950s sensibility and, ironically, remains the more progressive. Here, competition is extremely stiff with little to choose between this newcomer and Ondine’s previous Leipzig issue under Max Pommer (coupled with Symphonies Nos 1 and 2) or Hannu Lintu’s (with Cantus arcticus and Piano Concerto No 1—Naxos, 3/99). Ondine’s disc has marvellously warm, Chandos-like sound although I must confess a liking for the clarity of the Leipzig performance.

Rautavaara’s most recent symphony, the Eighth (1999), was memorably recorded by Segerstam seven years ago (Ondine, 1/02). Inkinen once again produces a refined interpretation with crystal-clear detail although Segerstam achieved more grandeur in the peroration. Choice here really will depend on couplings (the Harp Concerto on Ondine). The revision of the Sixth Symphony’s finale as a presumably—stand-alone concert piece shorn of its part for synthesiser works well enough, though it is no substitute for the whole work, for which turn to Max Pommer’s bracing account (also with the Helsinki Philharmonic) for Ondine. In context, though, the Naxos programme works most effectively and is a near—perfect introduction to Rautavaara’s late manner. Both discs are highly recommendable; at its price, the Naxos is hard to beat but Ondine has the Third. Buy both.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, May 2008

This work is a very fine one...very striking and effective...All in all a rewarding and valuable disc.

Robert Baxter
Courier-Post, April 2008

The conductor draws luminous playing from his orchestra in the opening movement of the Symphony No. 8. The music restlessly builds from one shimmering climax to the next. This fervent performance reveals the considerable beauty in the Finnish composer’s haunting music.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2008

Einojuhani Rautavaara is the modern voice of Finnish music, that voice is at once personal yet also speaking on behalf of nature that surrounds him. A student who studied on both sides of the Atlantic—his mentors including Merikanto and Persichetti—the return to Europe marked by music that used Nordic classicism as its inspiration. For a time he lived in the world of serial techniques, but in more recent years has relocated his music into tonality fashioned in the 21st century. Premiered in 2000, the Eighth is his most recent symphony, the score one of musical contemplation with peaks of highly charged emotional intensity. In four movements played without a break, the highly contrasted second and third being marked ‘Feroce’ and ‘Tranquillo’, while the work is finally resolved when sunlight illuminates the scene in a finale of rapturous emotions. The disc’s other major work is Manhatten Trilogy, scene painting in three distinct movements, Daydreams, Nightmares and Dawn. After the slow opening, the night music is of tangible events rather than ghostly apparitions we normally find in such musical concepts. The awakening of Dawn slowly moves away from the unease without ever quite dispelling the thoughts of the previous movement. That Rautavaara is constantly revisiting his previous scores comes here with a revised fourth movement of the Sixth Symphony, which was itself a reworking of music from his opera, Vincente. It is a score of considerable beauty, and all we now need from Naxos is the whole symphony. Under its new young Finnish conductor, Pietari Inkinen, the playing of the New Zealand Symphony is excellent, the music for long periods hardly taxing their skills, but requiring both shape and concentration to achieve the radiant tone by which the music exists. Superb sound quality.

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