Rautavaara: Book of Life: complete songs for male voice choir

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COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Book of Life: complete songs for male voice choir
PERFORMER: Amici Cantus/Hannu Norjanen
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-21444-2
The tradition of amateur choral singing in Finland is strong, so it comes as no surprise to learn that one of that nation’s most revered living composers, Einojuhani Rautavaara, should have written thus far two discs’ worth of material for male voice choir, even though each disc lasts only a fraction over 40 minutes. The texts he sets range far and wide, from, inevitably, the Kalevala to TS Eliot via Whitman, Elouard, Stefan George, Rimbaud, even Dag Hammarskjöld, and a number of Finnish poets like Kustavi Lounasheimo and Paavo Haavikko. The collection’s title comes from the largest piece, a deeply personal cycle of eleven songs. Consequently so does the music. Always the emphasis is on medium as well as text, and Rautavaara’s textures are imaginative, colourful, and often challenging. The performances by Amici Cantus are tenacious and on the whole finely blended, with director Hannu Norjanen ensuring plenty of variety of tone and dynamic. Perhaps in the last analysis they lack the last ounce of polish one would expect from the very best choirs, the Monteverdis or Taverners, for instance. Quite often a soloist will pierce the texture like a laser beam, almost shouting his way through the singing of his colleagues, which can be distracting if one is not prepared to make the odd allowance; the folksong ‘Isontalon Antti ja Rannanjärvi’ is one example. The recording’s fine, the sound stage well placed in the middle ground. Stephen Pettitt