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Rautavaara: The 8 Symphonies
Mikko Franck, Max Pommer, Leif Segerstam
Rautavaara: The 8 Symphonies
Genre: Classical
 
Einojuhani Rautavaara may well be the most popular symphonist alive today. On the occasion of his 80th anniversary, Ondine pays homage to its longtime house — composer by releasing the first-ever edition of the complete eig...  more »

      
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All Artists: Mikko Franck, Max Pommer, Leif Segerstam
Title: Rautavaara: The 8 Symphonies
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: Ondine
Original Release Date: 1/1/2009
Re-Release Date: 2/24/2009
Album Type: Box set
Genre: Classical
Styles: Historical Periods, Modern, 20th, & 21st Century, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 4
SwapaCD Credits: 4
UPC: 761195114520

Synopsis

Product Description
Einojuhani Rautavaara may well be the most popular symphonist alive today. On the occasion of his 80th anniversary, Ondine pays homage to its longtime house
composer by releasing the first-ever edition of the complete eight symphonies, in a special box set. Rautavaara is recognized as the greatest Finnish composer after Jean Sibelius. He has often described symphonic music as a journey through human life. Written between 1955 and 1999, the eight symphonies form a central pillar in Rautavaara s extensive artistic output and showcase the many stylistic periods in his fruitful career. They are hauntingly accessible to the listener and have proven wide audience appeal. The Seventh Symphony, Angel of Light (1994), became a best-seller and spurred Rautavaara to considerable international fame (including a Grammy® nomination), leading the Philadelphia Orchestra to commission the Eighth Symphony, The Journey (1999), for their centenary celebrations. The included recordings have been previously released by Ondine to international popular and critical acclaim, and were all produced in close collaboration with the composer.

EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA (b. 1928)
CD 1 [49 04]
Symphony No. 1
Symphony No. 2
CD 2 [49 09]
Symphony No. 3
Symphony No. 4 Arabescata
CD 3 [73 43]
Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 6 Vincentiana
CD 4 [67 10]
Symphony No. 7 Angel of Light
Symphony No. 8 The Journey
NO of Belgium Mikko Franck (No. 1)
Leipzig RSO Max Pommer (Nos. 2 5)
Helsinki PO Max Pommer (No. 6)
Helsinki PO Leif Segerstam (Nos. 7 & 8)
Total Timing 03:59:00
 

CD Reviews

A composer with a true symphonist's heart
Samuel Stephens | TN, USA | 04/04/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is an elegantly packaged set, containing only (unfortunately) the symphonies. The first two CDs reach only past the 49-minute mark, while the other two are lengthier. But that's the most minor of issues in this wonderful set.

Rautavaara's symphonies, if you are wondering, range in different moods depending on their composition date. Symphony No.1 (which is definitely among the accessible ones) has a style that the booklet notes suggest resembles the early Shostakovich and Prokofiev. I might also add Honegger and Martinu. Unlike any of those composers however, Rautavaara spends less time with mechanical gyrations and more time completing his phrases. So if you like the music of any of the above mentioned, you will definitely relate to Rautavaara's First Symphony. The Finale has a truly Prokofiev-esque twist to it, but it's the first two movements are the most moving and original. The Poetical middle movement is especially gorgeous, while the powerful first movement is a somber but grandiloquent statement.

The booklet notes tell us about the influences each of the first four symphonies. No.1 we already know; No.2 was influenced by Stravinsky; No.3 by Bruckner; No.4 by dyed-in-the-wool serialism. The Fourth Symphony is the symphony you will dislike right away. It's too soon for me to decide what I think about it.

Once you get to Symphony No.5 you're in different territory Rautavaara-wise. It was like restarting his idea of "symphony." It is in a single movement (not so surprising anymore after the works by Sibelius, Barber, Harris, and Rouse). Symphony No.6 is called "Vincentiana" because it's movements are derived from Ruatavaara's opera "Vincent" about Vincent van Gogh. It is among his most immediately arresting and interesting symphonies.

Finally there are the two famous symphonies, No.7 "Angel of Light" and No.8 "The Journey." The Seventh fully deserves its reputation, and I daresay it deserves a lot more as well. The music can only be described accurately as mystical. Each of its four movements gives a different mood, but all of them are mysterious, languorous sometimes, and even creepy. Symphony No.8 is a sense of grandeur that it shares with Symphony No.3, though this time it is not influenced by anyone.

I haven't cracked every nut in this barrel, but I can tell you that the most immediately accessible are symphonies 1, 3, 7, and 8.

I could write a long paragraph about how great I think Rautavaara is and how his music is different from any of his contemporaries (all of which is true). But I think Vladimir Ashkenazy says it best of all: "It has been a particular pleasure and privilege for me to be associated with Einojuhani Ruatavaara's music for the simple reason that it is totally unpretentious and it deals with the basics of our existence. He never imitates, never tries to be deliberately original and he has an idiom all of his own. Combined with a very high level of professionalism these qualities contribute to one of the most eloquent musical expressions of our time."

Last but not least: will there be a Ninth Symphony?"
Only two of the eight are especially worthwhile achievements
Christopher Culver | 05/19/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)

"A bit of a fad appeared around the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara in the late 1990s when his Symphony No. 7 "Angel of Light" proved a hit with the public, making for Ondine a bestselling record and a Grammy. Yet by that time Rautavaara had been writing symphonies for over forty years. This Ondine box contains all eight produced to date (further ones are unlikely because of the composer's grave health) performed by several Finnish ensembles and conductors in their latest revisions.

Rautavaara's idiom has never really changed. Though ostensibly influenced by Romanticism, especially the Nordic style, his music retains the focus on tonality of that tradition but with much less of an emphasis on thematic development. His Symphony No. 1 (1956, rev. 1988 and 2003), a student work, builds on what was common to his generation, but throws in some Shostakovich which must have sounded novel at the time. Starting with the Second Symphony (1957, rev. 1984), Rautavaara adopted atonality, but has used it only to produce the same sort of soundword he favoured from the start. The Symphony No. 3 (1961) is based on a 12 tone row, but sounds more like Bruckner. The Symphony No. 4 "Arabescata" (1962) is even totally serialized, with other musical parameters besides pitch determined by a row, but it is still recognizably Rautavaara.

A gap of over two decades came before Rautavaara's next symphony. Unfortunately, during those two decades Rautavaara's powers began to decline, to the point where he was issuing piece after piece for orchestra consisting of little more than slow triads over a pedal point with some tone clusters. The Fifth (1985-1986) is a typical example of these musical skeletons presented as complete works. The Sixth (1992), based on material from his Van Gogh opera, would also be indistinguishable from the rest were it not for its use of extremely cheesy-sounding synthesizer. I'm fond of the Seventh (1995), with its hushed mystical air, but perhaps that is only because I heard it first and didn't know how derivative it might be. The Eighth (1999) again offers nothing especially insightful.

I once heard a classical listener say of Rautavaara's late output that it is all sauce and no pasta. I must agree. There's just such an incredible lack of content in many of his symphonies. Instead of lauding Rautavaara, I'd much rather casual classical fans to check out composers like Vagn Holmboe, Per Norgard (at least his early pieces), or even Allan Pettersson who were committed to a tonal idiom but wrote such meaty works. If you want to check out Rautavaara's music, I can only recommend the recordings of the Third and the Eighth on Naxos (where you'll also get "Angels and Visitations", perhaps his best work), but dropping so much on a full box set of his symphonies may lead to disappointment."
A Truly Fine Symphonic Cycle
Thomas Gleim | Gaithersburg, MD United States | 04/25/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The previous reviewer, Mr. Stephens, offered a fairly complete treatment of the individual symphonies, and I just want to second his opinion of most of them and add a few words on other matters. In fact, if you have any conceivable interest in Rautavaara or contemporary music, you surely don't want to miss this set, which you can buy at a fire sale price.

However one might react to individual symphonies here (I loved them all), the strongest impression is the cumulative weight of listening to the entire cycle: Rautavaara has made a major contribution to the symphonic repertoire. The symphonies were written over a long period (1955 - 1999) and wander over the stylistic map. The early ones are somewhat derivative, although even they show evidence of an emerging "Rautavaara style" unique to this composer. In the late works, the music is pure Rautavaara, and their international success testifies to the universal appeal of this composer's music.

What of the performances? You will not be disappointed by any of them. What on paper may appear as a provincial effort (e.g., Mikko Franck leading the National Orchestra of Belgium in the First Symphony) prove in practice to be completely committed, even path-breaking readings. And the engineers have delivered everything in warm, middle-of-hall sound. (These are all re-issues of previous Ondine releases.)

The set comes in a sturdy box, along with two booklets, one just an ad peddling other Ondine discs, the other a well-written essay on the symphonies (English and Finnish).

I'd grab this box while it's available: it's almost surely destined to become a contemporary music classic.
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