Classical CD Reviews

RAUTAVAARA: Missa a Capella; Psalm of Invocation; Evening Hymn; Missa dudecanonica; Ave Maria, gratia plena; Canticum Mariae Virginis; Our Joyful’st Feast; Die erste Elegie – Latvian Radio Choir/ Sigvards Llava – Ondine

Gorgeous and wonderfully affecting choral music from one of Finland’s greatest composers.

Published on October 4, 2013

RAUTAVAARA: Missa a Capella; Psalm of Invocation; Evening Hymn; Missa dudecanonica; Ave Maria, gratia plena; Canticum Mariae Virginis; Our Joyful’st Feast; Die erste Elegie – Latvian Radio Choir/ Sigvards Llava – Ondine

RAUTAVAARA: Missa a Capella; Psalm of Invocation; Evening Hymn; Missa dudecanonica; Ave Maria, gratia plena; Canticum Mariae Virginis; Our Joyful’st Feast; Die erste Elegie – Latvian Radio Choir/ Sigvards Llava – Ondine ODE-1223, 63:34 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

This is the kind of album that makes you glad you love choral music. Einoiuhani Rautavaara (b. 1928) was born in Helsinki and is considered one of the most important post-Sibelius composers, though one must consider a large part of his pedigree as being American; he studied at the Juilliard School under such notables as Roger Sessions, Vincent Persichetti, and Aaron Copland. He composes in all genres, discarding his early serialism (which never “sounded” serial) in the 1960s, and has since written a lot of music with a pseudo-mystical flavor to it, often mentioning “angels” in titles. He has written a lot of sacred music for the Lutheran, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions and considers himself to have—in the words of Friedrich Schleiermacher—an “affinity for infinity”. That metaphysical element is present in all of his sacred music. Though not every work I have heard by him makes a lasting impression—though many do—I can honestly say I have heard nothing that I didn’t like.

On this album we get to sample a number of those traditions referred to and their varying contexts. Missa a Capella is one of the most recent pieces, its roots going back to the 1970s but only fulfilled in 2010. This lovely late romantic work is a gorgeous addition to the liturgical repertory, far more advanced and liturgical than so much of the kitchen-sink recycled poor 1960s mishmash that is heard in Catholic churches in this country. The composer’s most ambitious liturgical work is the 48-movement Vigilia for the Orthodox Church, represented by two small pieces on this disc, the Psalm of Invocation and Evening Hymn, representing “Lord I Call on Thee” (Psalm 140 in the Septuagint version, 141 in most Bibles) and the oldest extent Christian hymn in existence, “O Joyous Light”, both from the Vespers portion of the All-night Vigil.

Missa dudecanonica and Ave Maria are both part of the early 1960s dodecaphonic phase that he went through, the first a short mass of three movements each featuring a canon on the twelve-tone row on which it is based. I defy anyone to come away from this work feeling assaulted from stringent serialism—it’s simply not his style, and the work, plus the Ave Maria are serene and beautiful. Canticum Mariae Virginis dates 20 years later well into the composer’s mystical sonority era, even though it remains a highly-developed and rigorously constructed work. Our Joyful’st Feast is exactly that, a joyous and soulful Christmas carol, while the 1990s Die erste Elegie takes Rainer Maria Rilke’s rather extended poetry regarding angels to a poetic, expressive, and meditative height, combining romantic sentiment with a twelve-tone row used primarily as a roadmap for construction as opposed to an end in itself. All of these pieces are full of pastel-like sounds and glorious penetrative beauties.

The choral performances are superb, the Latvians singing the music of their Northern cousins with grace and finesse. Sound is excellent, clear, and very warm—or is it just the music? You decide!

—Steven Ritter




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