Rautavaara: Manhattan Trilogy; Symphony No. 3

COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Rautavaara
WORKS: Manhattan Trilogy; Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Helsinki PO/Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: Ondine ODE 1090-5 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Rautavaara’s perspective on New York is very different from the brash, vibrant works of Gershwin, Bernstein, Reich and Daugherty. He first visited Manhattan when studying at Juilliard in 1955-56 and was impressed by the city’s beauty, cruelty and changing moods. The Trilogy (2004) uses hope (‘Daydreams’), doubt (‘Nightmares’) and the ‘Dawn’ of the personality to symbolise an artist’s maturation. Its panels create eerie, crepuscular soundscapes that evoke the expanses of Central Park and fog drifting up the Hudson and East rivers. Only a relatively brief passage of ‘Nightmares’ reflects the hurried, neurotic character of Manhattan. After leaving New York Rautavaara studied in Switzerland, immersing himself in Modernism and the Romantics. Concerned that Schoenberg’s followers paid more attention to the principles of organisation than to the expression of emotion, he set out to redress the imbalance in this Symphony (1959‑60) which is built on a 12‑tone row, though this is not obvious. The music is full of voluptuous, organic melody, rich textures and a subtle yet surging development. Segerstam’s performance shows sensitivity, a seamless evolution and lush sound. Ondine’s catalogue already contains an impressive reading of that work by the Leipzig Radio SO under Max Pommer. Pommer’s interpretation is weightier, more rhetorical than Segerstam’s, whilst the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Hannu Lintu (Naxos) is closer to Segerstam in mood but often has a sharper focus than the other two recordings. If you want drama, Pommer’s definitely your man. If you want clarity of detail, choose Lintu. However, there is much to be enjoyed in Segerstam’s atmospheric reading.