RAUTAVAARA Violin Concerto; Isle of Bliss; Angels and Visitations Elmar Oliveira (violin) Helsinki Philharmonic / Leif Segerstam Ondine ODE 881-2; Records of the Week

Angels notwithstanding - and the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has made a speciality of them - the loftiest of these rich pickings also happens to be the most recent - and the most consonant. Isle of Bliss was written only two years ago but sounds like it evolved much, much sooner. The inheritance is Sibelius but the harmonies are those of wholesome Americans like Howard Hanson. This is the northern exposure Hanson never quite reached, the island paradise where death is the sweetest of homecomings. It's an incoming tide of music with rippling wood-block crescendos alluding to the sound of surf rushing over pebbles, it's post-Impressionism with a heart, richly imagined, expertly scored, and in "the crimson rise of dawn" which is its apotheosis, a tangible sense of spiritual refreshment. "Bliss" indeed - for each and every one of its 11 well-spent minutes.

Rautavaara is fast finding recognition as a master of the searching, the mystical and meditative, of music which is dream-like but precisely remembered - far removed from the vagaries of "New Age". The Violin Concerto begins its "journey through a world without frontiers" (to quote Milan Kundera on symphonic music) in the ascendant: a seraphic cantilena emerging from a timeless chiming. The stuff of fairy tales grows trenchant a la Shostakovich and capricious a la Prokofiev but without the inbred mordancy of either. Rautavaara flounders when he contrives to be humorous or dramatic as opposed to sensory. The accompanied cadenza of the Concerto (comic exclamation that is anything but), or the strenuous "visitations" of Angels and Visitations - which might usefully serve as the soundtrack to a John Carpenter slasher film - are second-rate episodes in potentially first- rate pieces. But Rautavaara always comes back from the bathos. Inspiration strikes suddenly, unexpectedly. His best ideas are tiny revelations seemingly born in the writing of them. Like the solo oboe obbligato which picks its way through the twilight zone of the Concerto's second movement. And as the violin takes hold of the oboe's guiding hand - mid-sentence, as it were - you know you're in the presence of a real composer. The performances are each of them labours of love, the recording amply accommodating of Rautavaara's imposing soundscapes. Endangered innocence -

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