on 16 August 2003
Cantus Articus was the work that got me into Rautavaara's music - the second movement, Melankolia, is for me one of the most beautiful pieces of classical music produced in the past 50 years. In this unusual work, tape recordings of arctic bird song are superbly mixed in with orchestral playing. The effect can be simply magical and one can picture oneself by a lake in Northern Finland, watching the swans fly and the midges dance on an endless summer evening. This was the piece with which Rautavaara abandoned his adherence to the rigid forms of post-war atonalism and, to my mind at least, his masterpiece.
The Piano Concerto is a more angular, atonal, work with lots of clashing harmonies. However it also has a real energy and verve with some ravishing interplay between the strings and the piano, especially in the middle movement.
Finally there's the 3rd symphony, the first two movements of which are full of gorgeous broad chords on string and brass, very reminiscent of Sibelius. In the latter movements the pace picks up as the sympony heads towards a rousing finish.
The RNSO, who seem to be Naxos' specialist Rautavaara orchestra, give a good account of all of this. With this CD at such a low price there's no better introduction to this composer.
I love this CD. I can't describe it in the 'correct' musical jargon, but I know how it makes me feel. Wide open spaces, big skies, a bracing wind in my face, and the melancholy cries of birds sending a shiver up my spine! Then there's the piano concerto. Rautavaara makes the piano sound like water in all its forms; tinkling drops of rain, murmuring streams, deep, still pools, crashing waves or roaring waterfalls. There's nothing so specific I can say about the third symphony except that it is in much the same mould as the first two pieces. The one weakness of the whole collection to my mind is the way the symphony peters out at the very end. I'm not a big fan of anything too modern or atonal: I do like melody and harmony. So I was surprised by the power with which this music gripped me. There may be no hummable tunes, but just feel the atmosphere! And there is nothing too discordant; on the contrary, there are a lot of lush harmonies for you to wallow in. The recording is very sharp, with all of the sounds well separated, especially the brass. I have not heard any other performances of these pieces, but these sound pretty good to my inexpert ears. I see that this CD is being promoted together with another in the same series by Rauravaara which includes his seventh symphony. I have them both, and they are both good, especially in view of the price, but if you're going to get just one, then get this one.
on 10 December 1999
This is music that certainly conjures up the majestic and austere vistas of those Arctic landscapes. The bird recordings add to the ghostliness of the "Cantus", and the concerto displays its beauty on repeated listenings. Both orchestra and soloist perform superbly, and the recording is up to Naxos' usual high standard. Unfamiliar with Rautavaara's work, this CD was bought on a whim, and I was not disappointed. Highly recommended, especially at this price.
on 20 June 2001
I only bought this CD out of curiosity. The title work, Cantus Arcticus, concerto for Birds and Orchestra, struck me as something of a joke. Upon reading the excellent sleeve notes my heart sank when I saw it was based around the whole tone scale. I expected to hear a work full of discordant harmonies and jarring rhythmns. What I actually got was pure beauty. This is a totally accessible Cd and one I have become quite addicted to.
on 21 August 2003
This album has been revelatory to me, and I came by its existence quite by accident. Had I relied on my “usual sources” — music critics and reviewers in the trade press — I would surely still be without it. It came highly recommended by friends at a music chat room (the Classical Music Forum at the N. Y. Times website), and I pass this recommendation on to all browsers who happen across this review.
Einojuhani Rautavaara may well turn out to be a, if not the most, significant composer in the last quarter century. Hand-picked by Jean Sibelius to be his successor, Rautavaara came to the U.S. to study at Julliard and to rub elbows with the likes of Copland, Persichetti and others. He then went on to study at the Darmstadt School, all the while building an early repertoire. If the thought of the Darmstadt School, and its preoccupation with serialism, sounds offputting, permit me to put your mind at ease.
The three pieces on this album represent Rautavaara at perhaps early mid-career, covering the period from about 1960 to 1972. (He is still actively — and happily — composing, having recently attended the premiere of his 8th Symphony in Philadelphia.)
Cantus Arcticus (“Concerto for Birds and Orchestra“) is by far his best-known work, and receives an excellent performance here. In performance notes, he wrote “Think of autumn and Tchaikovsky.” The result is nonetheless strikingly different. The birds, all species whose habitat is the Arctic region of Finland, are compelling factored in as musicians in their own right, with the woodwinds frequently imitating them. This is the most Sibelius-like of the three pieces on the album, and in fact is quite different than the bird music of Messiaen, or the work of Hovhaness that includes whale sounds. I found it to be immediately accessible and moving, more in the vein of Paul Winter’s works that successfully integrate such fauna sounds, in its direct, simple and noble appeal. But I think that there is a much better performance of this piece to be found on BIS CD-1098, with Osmo Vänska leading the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and utilizing the composer’s revised tape recording of the birds, which is significantly more effective than the one on this recording.
The Piano Concerto No. 1 is, in a word, dazzling. The first movement, full of grand gestures somewhat reminiscent of the Prokofiev 1st, is full of tone clusters obtained by using both the fist and the forearm. The result is a dizzying “struggle for consonance” that, rather than falling harshly on the ears, is instead thoroughly delightful; the dissonances are delicious, if such a term may be used for tone clusters. The brief final movement seems to pull together Prokofiev, Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” (on speed) and Messiaen’s “Turangalila-Symphonie.” If this description (which is a personal “read” of mine) suggests eclecticism, it should be said that the result is uniquely Rautavaara. And the pianist, Laura Mikkola, provides a stunningly virtuosic performance.
The Symphony No. 3 (which Rautavaara notes is the synthesis of the romanticism of his 1st Symphony and the serialism of his 2nd Symphony) unabashedly and unapologetically looks back at Bruckner (complete even to the incorporation of 4 Wagner tubas in the scoring). The reference to Bruckner’s “Romantic Symphony” is clear, beginning with the string tremolos and massed brasses in the first movement. That the music is built entirely on tone rows might well go unnoticed by the listener; the craft that Rautavaara has at his fingertips is quite remarkable and the result is anything but “serial” in the usual sense of the term. The second movement brings Howard Hanson’s own Romantic Symphony to mind. Had Hanson lived a decade or so longer, it would have been interesting to hear how he might have grappled with tone rows; perhaps he might well have ended up writing in a similar idiom. The third movement recalls Nielsen as much as anyone. The final movement brings us back once again to Bruckner, and, latterly, Hanson: Just before a hushed — and totally satisfying — close, the massed brass once again traverse a rather astounding peroration of modulations that remind us that Bruckner had trod this path as a groundbreaker a century earlier, and that Hanson as well had done similar boldly chromatic things at the close of his own Romantic Symphony. If all of this comes across as little more than a pastiche, let me summarize the work in this way: It is a big, bold and totally accessible dodecaphonic Romantic Symphony. Seemingly an oxymoronic statement. But that, I am now finding, is part of the majic of Rautavaara.
This budget Naxos album is a perfect starting point for exploring Rautavaara’s captivating and often exhilarating music. It has led me to explore his music much more thoroughly, and I hope that it does for you as well.
on 9 June 2010
Cantus Arcticus is beautiful, I can listen to it over and over again. Rautavaara has the magic touch here in that he blends the sounds of the bird song and orchestra so that they compliment each other - they are intertwined perfectly. The orchestra doesn't dominate over the bird song. To create the perfect balance between the man-made and natural sound is an achievement which a listener could easily overlook because it is done so well here!
In the first movement I particularly enjoy hearing the brass and woodwinds imitating different birds and wondering which birds in question are being imitated. It is always good to introduce children to a wide range of experiences as early as possible (including classical music)and I found this piece of music to be very child-friendly, it captivated both their attention and their imaginations (I have two boisterous boys aged 5 and 8). However in their imaginations the brass/woodwind was imitating sounds other than birds - a car horn and a train tooting!
The second movement is beautifully melancholy - I have always liked the eerie sound of a curlew calling, and again the orchestra and bird songs blend beautifully.
The third movement is particularly clever because the music suggests both the calling and the movement of migrating geese - it is captured perfectly. (Would 'arpeggio' be the correct term? The arpeggios played on the woodwinds suggest the movement of the birds' wings - up and down, but of course the individual birds are not always completely synchronised with the whole group - and this is reflected in the way that the woodwinds are not completely synchronised either).
This CD was my introduction to Rautavaara and it does seem a good place to start, although I have been so captivated with Cantus Arcticus that I haven't yet listened to the Piano Concerto or 3rd Symphony properly yet (I do like to spend some time 'absorbing' pieces of music which are new to me, and can also find it can take time to 'tune in' to composers I am not so familiar with). First impressions of the Piano Concerto are that it is strident, but that given time to accustom myself with the concerto that there will be much to enjoy and discover and that the strident qualities are actually part of the beauty of this piece. I also have Rautavaara's Harp Concerto to listen to - definitely a composer worth investigating further .....
on 10 December 1999
This is music that perfectly conjures up Arctic vistas, especially in the Cantus, with its ghostly bird recordings and wide orchestral spaces. The concerto and symphony reveal their melodic beauty on subsequent listenings; this is not "hard" modern music. Both orchestra and soloist perform admirably, and the recording is up to Naxos' usual high standard. This CD was purchased on a whim, and I was not disappointed. Something a bit different, and highly recommended, especially at this price.
on 6 February 2012
I came across this disc by accident having previously not heard much (if any) of Rautavaara's music, and am very impressed by it. The use of bird calls in Cantus Arcticus is not a gimmick - they are properly integrated into the concerto as the soloist - think of it as a clarinet concerto with the clarinet replaced by birds and you won't be far wrong. The result is a piece that stands on its own merits as a concerto, but also conveys the light and space of northern wilderness. The piano concerto #1 is also a powerful piece - although formally atonal, it is very lyrical and engaging. I am now a fan of Rautavaara and want to hear more, and can easily recommend this disc as a starting point. No complaints about the performance of orchestra or soloists & the recording quality is fine.