Rautavaara: Orchestral Songs

COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Rautavaara Orchestral Songs
WORKS: Orchestral Songs
PERFORMER: Gabriel Suovanen (baritone); Helsinki PO/Leif Segerstam
In ‘Man Looking’, the second song of Rautavaara’s little cycle, The Lovers, we face that dark angel which has inspired so much of the composer’s orchestral writing, and provided something of an icon with which Ondine has so successfully promoted Rautavaara’s music outside Finland. The poet is Rilke, and although it is Jacob’s wrestling angel whom we meet here, there’s little sense of struggle within the music itself. This cycle was written between 1958-64, and preceded here by more Rilke settings: the Five Sonnets to Orpheus, of 1955-60, to which Gabriel Suovanen responds warmly. Framing the Rilke settings is a sample of early and of late Rautavaara. The Shakespeare settings, from his student days, are overblown in contrast with the lyrical refinement of the three songs from Rautavaara’s 1997 opera, Aleksis Kivi. These are all fine performances, and neither Suovanen nor the Helsinki Philharmonic under Leif Segerstam are to be blamed for the lack of real emotional engagement in music which, filtered through painstaking technique, never quite persuades me of its necessity to exist. Hilary Finch