This 2005 release of music by Einojuhani Rautavaara might seem like a big deal with its dual SACD/CD layer and three world premieres with big fan Mikko Franck conducting the National Orchestra of Belgium. Yet, as with so much of Rautavaara's late music, people are going to end up cursing themselves for seeking out the disc when the music on it is so meagre, light, fluffy, insubstantial etc. (I was lucky to listen to a library copy).
Take "Book of Visions" (2003/2005) for example. Fourty full minutes of long drawn-out string lines over a pedal point, with no meaningful development. Occasionally Rautavaara will throw in some rumbling percussion to spice things up, but the lack of direction is painfully obvious throughout. I fail to understand why the conservatives hold up Rautavaara as an ideal modern composer when his music has so much less, well, *musical* content than the greats of the classical era. Maybe the fad is over, as at a recent Helsinki performance of "Book of Visions" people started walking out and one listener called it a "book of monotony". The short "Adagio Celeste" for string orchestra (1997/2000) is more of the same. Indeed, I'd challenge a Rautavaara fan to tell a snippet of it from "Book of Visions", the composer's last two symphonies, or "Isle of Bliss".
There is one piece here which is somewhat more interesting. Rautavaara wrote his Symphony No. 1 in 1955, and both the first version and a 1988 revision have been widely recorded before. In 2003, however, he revised the piece yet again to add a slow movement between the two main ones, though as the slow movement is based on a song he wrote in the '50s the spirit of the piece is preserved. The piece is highly reminiscent of Shostakovich, whom the young Finnish modernists of those times admired. This piece is completely listenable, although one feels it is more the fulfillment of a student's assignment to imitate the Russian composer than a significant new acheivement.
The liner notes consist of Rautavaara's own comments on the music, which as common with his late works are described as emanating from some other, metaphysical realm and only transmitted to us by the composer. I'd have to say that if this is true, the divine is boring indeed.