Rautavaara: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3 (Gift of Dreams); Isle of Bliss

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COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3 (Gift of Dreams); Isle of Bliss
PERFORMER: Laura Mikkola (piano); Netherlands RSO/Eri Klas
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557009
Both these concertos have been recorded before, the Second by Ralf Gothóni and the Bavarian Radio orchestra under Saraste, and the Third by Vladimir Ashkenazy who had commissioned a concerto that he could also direct from the keyboard (both on Ondine).

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The Third is contemplative and inward-looking, and its inspiration is suggested by Rautavaara’s 1978 Baudelaire setting, ‘Le mort des pauvres’ in which the words, ‘le don des rêves’ occur: hence the subtitle. Although I wrote appreciatively of it on first hearing I must confess that I have never really been drawn to return to it. While it engages you at the time, it does not resonate afterwards. Listening to it again, in this excellent performance by Laura Mikkola and the fine Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra under Eri Klas, renews one’s admiration. Both here and in the Isle of Bliss, written three years earlier and inspired by the Finnish poet Aleksis Kivi, I was reminded strongly of Honegger: Rautavaara’s use of triads moving in contrary motion and his refined harmonic sense have more parallels with the French/Swiss master than with the Sibelius tone poems to which his works has been compared. Although the music unfolds effortlessly and envelops the listener in its world, there is little real melodic distinction.

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The Second Piano Concerto comes from the late 1980s and is imaginative. The rippling piano figuration of the opening is effective, though I find the middle movement discursive and wanting in concentration. At bargain price this is good value for those wanting to sample these pieces. Robert Layton