Rautavaara: Summer Thoughts

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Summer Thoughts: complete works for violin and piano
PERFORMER: Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Paavali Jumppanen (piano)

On the face of it, the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has been on quite a stylistic journey. This CD gives some idea of the road travelled, from the folk-based nationalism of Pelimannit, through serialism in Variétude, to unashamedly nostalgic Romanticism (no need for the ‘neo’ prefix here) in Lost Landscapes. Rautavaara gives the impression of a composer who has eventually decided that he’s going to write the music he wants to hear, rather than what anybody else thinks he ‘should’ be writing. What is striking though is that the first and last stages of this journey feel remarkably similar.
The richly expressive expanded tonal harmonies of Pelimannit are very similar in colour and emotional effect to those of Lost Landscapes. And even within the tighter technical constraints of Variétude there’s still a sense of a voice straining towards song. Still, experiencing the slightly earlier Dithyrambos, with its compelling dance rhythms and ripe sensuous harmonies, after Variétude is rather like tearing off a straightjacket and running round the garden naked. That it should have such an effect is partly a tribute to the spirited musicianship of Pekka Kuusisto and Paavali Jumppanen.
If Kuusisto ultimately emerges as the star, that’s partly because the piano writing in the more recent pieces gives him a lot less scope than Dithyrambos or Pelimannit. But in those earlier scores he’s splendidly alert and expressive. Recordings are well-balanced and warm-toned. Stephen Johnson