Rautavaara: Harp Concerto; Symphony No. 8 (The Journey)

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COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Harp Concerto; Symphony No. 8 (The Journey)
PERFORMER: Marielle Nordmann (harp); Helsinki PO/Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 978-2
Both works are hot off the press: the Harp Concerto was completed only in 2000 for the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Symphony in 1999 for Philadelphia. The new Concerto is predominantly reflective and highly imaginative in its use of texture. In addition to the soloist, Rautavaara adds two harps in the orchestra in order, as he puts it, to create ‘a really full and lush harp sound when needed’. The whole piece takes 23 minutes, all three movements are slow, and my only problem is with the somewhat amorphous finale. The French soloist, Marielle Nordmann, a pupil of Lily Laskine, gives a performance of great distinction and subtlety.

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The Eighth Symphony was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, which premiered it in April 2000 under Sawallisch. Rautavaara speaks of its musical growth as characterised by slow transformation, a strong narrative element and ‘the generation of new, different aspects and perspectives from the same premises, the transformation of light and colour’. As always with this composer there is a strong feeling for nature. Perhaps the most haunting movement is the third, whose quiet radiance stays with the listener. Excellent playing from the Helsinki Philharmonic under Leif Segerstam and state-of-the-art recording. Robert Layton