Rautavaara’s song-cycle ‘Rubaiyat’ performed by Gerald Finley

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Einojuhani Rautavaara
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Rautavaara
WORKS: Rubaiyat; Into the Heart of Light; Balada; Four songs from the opera Rasputin
PERFORMER: Mika Pohjonen (tenor), Gerald Finley (bass-baritone); Helsinki Music Centre Choir; Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
CATALOGUE NO: Ondine ODE 1274-2

Advertisement

It’s probably no accident that the Finn Einojuhani Rautavaara is both one of the most significant living composers, and one of the most accessible. From early serialism, exploring wide-ranging styles, he evolved a neo-Romantic idiom, often mystically inspired. His music is sometimes coolly austere, at others rich, lyrical and dramatic, but no more ‘difficult’ than JanáΩek or Szymanowski. Here John Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic, in fine form, record a selection of recent, largely vocal works.

Rautavaara’s latest song-cycle Rubaiyat (2015), settings of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam in Edward Fitzgerald’s famous (and very free) English rendition, is definitely in his colourful vein, its surging string figures and pulsing timpani reminiscent of his tone-poem Isle of Bliss. Gerald Finley, expressive as ever, catches the shifting moods of hedonism and world-weary philosophy engagingly, his voice less swamped than in the piano version. A less lush radiance infuses Into the Heart of Light (Canto V: 2006), for strings, and the choral cantata Balada (2014), from his unfinished opera about poet García Lorca.

Outside Finland Rautavaara’s operas have made less impression than his orchestral works; but Rasputin (2003) explores darker forms of mysticism and hedonism to dramatic effect, as this suite of choruses suggests. Opening with the folksy ‘Troika trotting’, it leaps to the ominous revolutionary closing chorus ‘Day of Vengeance’ and the erotic ‘I fear not’. The pounding ‘Shine, Zion, shine!’, as Rasputin’s cultists dance themselves into orgiastic ecstasy, makes a striking conclusion. Altogether, well worth hearing.

Advertisement

Michael Scott Rohan