Rautavaara – Before The Icons & A Tapestry Of Life

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COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Before the Icons; A Tapestry of Life
PERFORMER: Helsinki PO/Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1149-2

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Before the Icons is a rather different work from the melismatic pieces which have made the Finnish modernist composer internationally famous, although it has just as strong a mystical theme as the Angel series or Cantus Arcticus. It derives from his early piano suite Icons (1955), depicting Byzantine religious images such as The Black Madonna of Blakernaya.

This he orchestrated in 2005, adding intervening ‘promenade’ pieces à la Pictures at an Exhibition, depicting the worshippers’ response. The music still retains something of a 1950s feeling, more thematically taut and structured, occasionally slightly reminiscent of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler suite. Segerstam and the excellent Helsinki players provide appropriately atmospheric support.

A Tapestry of Life, poetic reflections on human existence, is more familiar in style, with great swooping and soaring string figures, harp glissandos, radiant brass fanfares, emphatic drum-strokes and hints in woodwind of the composer’s beloved birdsong. Indeed, in its fluently undulating lines and philosophical moods, Tapestry displays strong kinship with the bird-oriented Cantus Arcticus.

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Rautavaara still divides opinion, almost inevitable with a modernist in flight from serialism who moreover has the misfortune to become popular; but there’s no doubt about the beauty of the soundworlds he creates. Michael Scott Rohan