I was fascinated by the recording of Einohuhani Rautavaara's (b. 1928) first piano concerto on Naxos and was eager to hear this recording of the second and third piano concertos. The pianist, Laura Mikkola, also was featured in the first concerto, and she performs these difficult scores beautifully. She is accompanied on this CD by the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eri Klas.
After composing his first piano concerto in 1969, Rautavaara said that he wished to capture "the entire rich grandeur of the instrument." He has done that indeed. These two concertos feature beautiful and varied writing which reveal the soul of the piano. There are lengthy passages of delicate bird-like filigree in the upper register, cascading arpeggios, passages up and down the instrument in thirds and sixths, long exciting runs, cello-like themes in the lower register of the instrument, and beautiful accompaniment to many combinations of strings, winds, brass, and percussion in the orchestra. These are outstanding contemporary pianistic works.
The second piano concerto, composed in 1989, is the more challenging of the two. Rautavarra here combines his early serialistic technique with the unique romantic voice he developed in the 1970s. His combination of serialism and romanticism reminds me of the late American composer George Rochberg. Rautavarra's music, however, is more sinuous, sensual, and mystical that Rochberg's "hard romanticism". The second concerto is in three connected movements focusing on a lengthy middle movement The work opens with piano filigree and gradually grows in intensity to include swirling runs and angry chords. The middle movement opens with a slow, blusey piano solo, followed by a deliberate walking passage for the instrument. The movement again deepens as it progresses and features percussion and trumpet calls accompaning passionate runs and chords in the piano. The finale recalls the opening movement as it begins with filigree, proceeds to a passage featuring piano clusters and runs, and then fades away. This is a challenging and rewarding work.
Rautavaara wrote his third piano concerto in 1999 for Vladimir Ashkenazy. It is a much more melodic, accessible piece with little in the way of serialism. The piano writing again predominates as the music alternates moments of quiet shimmering reflection with sections of virtuosity and passion. This work is also in three movements with a climactic and extended middle movement. The work opens with a slow theme in the lower strings. The piano part varies from big chords, to running figures accompaning the orchestra, to lyrical melodic lines. The second movement opens with the piano playing chords against a growling background in the lower strings. The music assumes a singing character followed by a more dramatic section. The finale, marked "Energico" opens with a percussive passage for the piano followed by a reflective passage with long runs for the soloist and a return of the energetic section with huge chords for the piano before a fade-away close. This work, nicknamed the "Gift of Dreams" will have an immediate appeal even to listeners who may have hesitations about passages of serialism in the second concerto.
The CD also includes a short orchestral work, "Isle of Bliss" (1996) inspired by the work of Finnish poet Alexis Kivi (1834-1872). Sibelius also set the work of Kivi and Rautavaara has composed an opera based on his life. This is a sensuous swaying work in which a lyrical opening is succeed by a variety of dramatic passages for wind soloists and percussion before the idylic opening material returns. This is a romantic, luscious score.
This CD offers the opportunity to hear unique music by a composer who has rightfully become regarded as a modern master.