Rautavaara: Vigilia

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COMPOSERS: Rautavaara
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Vigilia
PERFORMER: Soloists; Finnish Radio Chamber Choir/Timo Nuoranne
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 910-2
If the prospect of an all-night vigil sung unaccompanied in Finnish doesn’t enthrall you, don’t worry: you’re not alone. But give this disc a try, if you can: it delivers far more than it promises. Einojuhani Rautavaara is not only Finland’s leading composer of symphonies, he is also a fine setter of words, as a substantial corpus of choral and other vocal works testifies.

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The inspiration for Vigilia, subtitled ‘All-Night Vigil in Memory of St John the Baptist’, was a childhood visit to an island monastery, where the impressionable youngster experienced tolling bells, bearded monks in robes, and saints, kings and angels in iconic form. These dazzling images were distilled many years later into two unaccompanied service settings, Vespers and Matins, that draw on a comparably rich variety of textures and techniques: growling bassi profundi, soloists appearing both singly and in pairs, and a chorus that occasionally breaks into expressive glissandi and clusters. The Finnish Radio Chamber Choir under Timo Nuoranne is more than a match for all this, communicating a wide emotional range with urgency and unassuming virtuosity. The five soloists are equally admirable, and the end result is a work that can give immense satisfaction on both aesthetic and spiritual levels. Barry Millington